Fairfax County Police Use of Force

Fairfax County Police Use of Force

Police shooting incidents by chief tenure.

Ongoing series about the Fairfax County Police Department and its policies and history on use of deadly force.

The Fairfax County Police Department General Order 540, Use of Force is scheduled for review in August 2025, General Order 540, Use of Force establishes guidelines and reporting requirements for the use of force.

This matters in our county because only by capturing the full picture of each such case of police use-of-force does it provide a complete understanding of the encounter with law enforcement and its outcomes. It clarifies and identifies what the department should consider reforming. It facilitates transparency and accountability, leading to community trust-building.

Police Chief Kevin Davis is 26 months into his administration as chief which began on May 3, 2021. Under Davis’ leadership, 13 officers have used deadly force in 10 separate incidents.

An online message from Davis states that each officer in the department took an oath of office to protect and serve the community and is held to the highest of standards to protect the sanctity of life, human rights, and to uphold the law. "The Fairfax County Police Department's General Orders, rules, regulations, policies, and standards require that any deployment of deadly force shall be reasonably necessary when all other de-escalation options are not effective or viable for the specific situation.”

In 2020, the University of Chicago Law School published "Deadly Discretion: The Failure of Police Use of Force Policies to Meet Fundamental International Human Rights Law and Standards." Incidents of police abuse in the United States "provide a grim illustration of the power law enforcement officers have over the people they are sworn to serve and protect and the deadly consequences when they abuse that power," according to the study.

International standards on police use of lethal force support four principles: 1) legality, ”provided in a domestic law that complies with international standards,” 2) necessity, ”only in response to an imminent and particularized threat and only as a last resort; 3) proportionality- ”only in response to threats to life or serious bodily harm to the officers or others,” and 4) accountability, “requires an effective review process, involvement or an external oversight body and issuance of a report in all instances of the use of lethal force.”

Police departmental policy mandates the release of the names of officers involved in a police shooting incident within ten days, with exceptions allowed for safety and security. The department releases body-worn camera footage within thirty days of an incident, such as the video from Feb. 2, 2022, when an officer fired one round from his service rifle, striking a man and wounding him so he fell to the ground on the front porch of the home.

A look back at the Fairfax County online Archived Summaries of Officer-Involved Shootings by Year shows that the Fairfax County Police Department has improved its public notifications since 2005. The department did not identify the officers who used deadly force just after the turn of the millennium or for many years afterward. In 2015, Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova formed the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission in the wake of public concern about the Aug. 29, 2013 police shooting death of unarmed Springfield resident John Geer in his own doorway and subsequent lack of information. The commission made 200 recommendations for reform, most adopted and mandated by the Board of Supervisors, including the release of names of officers. https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/policecommission/

Chief Edwin C. Roessler’s 86-month administration spanned from March 23 to July 29, 2013 as acting chief, and from July 30, 2013, to Feb. 2, 2021, as chief. Under his leadership, 15 officers deployed deadly force in 10 incidents.

Roessler said in 2019, after the violent domestic incident in Burke, in which FCPD Special Operations Division responded unsuccessfully to save hostages, "It’s important to note the trauma all have been exposed to in this tragedy, and we continue to pray for all involved as they recover for the rest of their lives."

In an interview last week, on July 17, Roessler said he got “out of the office, preaching and teaching the sanctity of life.” Roessler said that many officers did not like him, repeating their comment, ‘There he goes again talking about the sanctity of life.’ 

“So there's a cultural attitude. You’ve got to change the culture through the leadership,” Roessler said.

An officer's decision on whether to use deadly force has to do with policy and training (See Connection story, “FCPD Lacked Crisis, Decision Making Training,” June 27. 2023) and is also intricately linked to leadership.

The Department's policy, FCPD’s General Order 540, Use of Force, is crucial. Other influential factors: the officer's training; the less-lethal devices available at the moment of crisis moment, the suspect's weapon — firearm or not, and officers’ past experiences, have they shot before?

When asked what FCPD could do better in 2023, Roessler, who is retired and living out of state, said to look at all the cases when officers used deadly force and the department's policy. 

"You know, back in 2013, that was on my to-do list as Chief, Day One, because we already had legacy shootings that did not have answers," Roessler said. 

"That's what we did, academically and mechanically. We moved forward; we made quick-hit changes (to General Order 540, Use of Force) that came up from those groups in the interim until we could review an entire General Order across the whole spectrum of the department's operation, administratively and operationally. We presented those to the (ad-hoc) commission and got their buy-in,” Roessler said.

A policy review could require that reporting requirements made public on shootings, use-of-force, and civilian injury cases to include service years, prior incidents involving force or injury, administrative discipline, civil suits, misconduct settlements, and more. 

The University of Chicago examined policing and public health through injury data. "Incidents of law-enforcement-related injury are frequently dismissed, in part, because they are anecdotal," Alfreda Holloway-Beth, Ph.D., said. "The lack of comprehensive surveillance data permits a narrative to persist that the problem does not exist, is exaggerated, or is simply being used as a political tool by ‘anti-police’ constituents. Before we can define policies on reporting requirements, accountability, and training, we need to define the problem. This can only be done through a comprehensive surveillance program."

Key insights included in the report found, "For every death [from police use-of-force], there were approximately 60–80 non-fatal injuries that required treatment in a hospital, with 13 percent of the civilians having suffered traumatic brain injuries, which have potential long-term severe outcomes.”

Data on incidents of law enforcement-related injuries to civilians is one example of information the Fairfax Police Department does not currently make available to the general public. Beyond civilian complaints, the Fairfax County Police Department does not compile annual data on civilians injured in interactions with law enforcement. It might occur through the use of force, such as positional asphyxia and electronic control weapons, or through deliberate car crashes or PIT maneuvers. The immediate and long-term effects of the injuries are not known.

The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) is a non-profit organization that works to create a community of support for independent civilian oversight entities seeking to make local law enforcement more transparent, accountable, and responsive to their communities.

There are 127 police oversight jurisdictions listed on the website. Fairfax County is one. Fairfax County established the Office of the Independent Police Auditor, and the Police Civilian Review Panel, both formed as a result of the Ad Hoc Commission’s recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.The Auditor reviews police investigations involving the use of force and serves as an independent intake venue for complaints against the Fairfax County Police Department. The Police Auditor's next report on incident reviews will occur at the Police Civilian Review Panel's Aug. 3, 2023, meeting.

Davis declined to answer the Connection’s questions about how FCPD’s current General Order 540, Use of Force policy meets International Human Rights Law and Standards (by the University of Chicago), FCPD responded, “The Fairfax County Police Department is a leader in the law enforcement profession, implementing forward-thinking, equitable, and reasonable policies that consistently exceed both accreditation and industry standards and go through an extensive review process.”

Police Shooting Incidents by Chief

* Police Chief Kevin Davis- Current 26-month administration as chief began on May 3, 2021. Under Davis’ leadership, 13 officers used deadly force in 10 separate incidents. Officers’ fatally shot four individuals, wounded five, and missed one.

* David M. Rohrer’s three-month administration as acting chief began on Feb.1, 2021, and ended on May 2, 2021, bridging the gap between Roessler and Davis. Under Rohrer’s leadership, no officers deployed deadly force.

* Edwin Roessler Jr.'s 86-month administration at the helm of the FCPD spanned from March 23, 2013, to July 29, 2013, as acting chief and from July 30, 2013, to Feb. 2, 2021, as chief. Under Roessler’s leadership, more than seven years, 15 officers deployed deadly force in 10 incidents. His officers shot and killed three people, wounded three, and missed three—one suspect self-inflicted a deadly gunshot.

* James Morris’ five-month administration as chief began on Oct. 20, 2012, and ended on March 22, 2013. Under Morris’ leadership, no officers deployed deadly force.

* David M. Rohrer’s 8.25-year administration as chief began in July 2004 and ended on Oct. 19, 2012. Under Rohrer’s leadership, 46 officers used deadly force in 32 incidents. Officers’ fatally shot 14 individuals, wounded 14, and missed four. Online data by FCPD is only available until the end of 2005 and does not include 2004. Rohrer was named Assistant County Executive for Public Safety.