Needed: Tasers and De-escalation in Fairfax County

Needed: Tasers and De-escalation in Fairfax County

The Board of Supervisors thought every officer in the police department would carry a Taser (electronic control weapon or ECW) after the program was initiated.

The Board of Supervisors also thought that every officer was going to be trained in de-escalation techniques (crisis intervention or CIT) to respond to crisis situations. Only about 34 percent of Fairfax County officers have received CIT training.

And currently, the police and Community Services Board have implemented a co-responder pilot program to ensure that a crisis intervention specialist assists police in responding to situations that involve mental health or behavioral crisis.

But on July 19, 2021, police entered a group home in Springfield with guns drawn through the back door. 

They were called to the house because of a 911 call that a resident was “being violent, throwing things in her room, running up and down the house, threatening to kill staff and herself,” according to police reports.

“Can you help us understand what the challenge might be with getting a taser in the hand of every officer?

— Chairman Jeff McKay

“This group home in Springfield is known to the Fairfax County Police Department,” said Police Chief Kevin Davis at a briefing just after the incident. Police have responded to other 911 calls there. He described the scene the officers entered as “chaotic.”

“They were confronted and advanced upon by a woman with a large knife,” Davis said.

Police shouted commands for the woman, who was holding a Cuisinart knife, to “drop it” and “stop.”

The woman appeared to be further provoked by the officers yelling at her. She screamed, “I will not stop.” She took steps from the kitchen sink where she had been standing toward the two officers and yelled at them, “I will stab you.”

NEITHER OFFICER was carrying a Taser. The group home resident was shot in the abdomen. She was in critical condition but survived.

See body camera footage, just over three minutes long, here

During the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee meeting on Oct. 26, 2021, Davis said there’s been a lot of discussion about Tasers (ECWs) since the shooting in Springfield.

Chairman Jeff McKay asked Davis why all police officers are not carrying a Taser. 

“For those of us who were on the Board when the Taser program was approved, we believed that every officer would be issued a taser,” said McKay. “Can you help us understand what the challenge might be with getting a taser in the hand of every officer? Some have reasonably asked why that is not an instrument that is issued to everyone who wears a uniform.”

Every 2nd lieutenant and below as well as police detectives on the street and captains on duty will be “personally issued a Taser,” said Police Chief Kevin Davis. “So there will be no if ands or buts about whether one is available.”

Davis said the department is currently procuring 350 new Tasers. 

“You can imagine every couple of years ... they come out with a new model and as the years go by the replacement parts for the older models become impossible or too expensive to obtain so we’re in the process now of updating all of the tasers,” said Davis.

“It would just be a matter of looking at the finances and what it would take to outfit the entire police department but we can certainly explore that,” said Davis.

“That would be helpful,” said McKay.

Davis said police are also reviewing the department’s Critical Incident Release Policy. “Now that we have body worn cameras, we need to go back and revise our critical incident release policy to reflect the new realities of body worn cameras and community expectations about the release of body cam footage.”

Police released the body cam footage a week and a half after the non-fatal shooting at the group home, but don’t appear to have released the name of the officer who fired the shot. 

Officers immediately assisted the woman, after handcuffing her, and one of the officers was able to help the critically wounded woman calm down and breathe as they rendered aid.

“It hurts,” she said. 

“I know it hurts,” the officer reassured her, as he explained that he needed to stop the bleeding and was applying pressure to the gunshot wound.

Officers were not charged with criminal conduct and their names were not released in Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano’s report.

“The officer in question was reasonable in fearing that the resident intended to either kill him, or cause him serious bodily injury, and it was therefore legally permissible for him to use the level of force used to repel the assault. Accordingly, I decline to bring any criminal charge against the officer,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano.