Roessler was appointed police chief by the Board of Supervisors in July after serving as acting chief for the previous three months. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., he’s served in a variety of positions with the Fairfax County Police Department, including deputy chief of patrol.
He laid out what he sees as the the department’s three missions:
The top mission, of course, is to prevent and fight crime, he said, but “we cannot do that without the support of the community” and that requires the creation of “robust support networks.” The community is “our eyes and ears.”
Fairfax County has the 32nd largest law enforcement department in the United States. But it has the lowest crime rate and the lowest ratio of police officers to residents among the nation’s 50 largest police forces.
The department’s second mission, Roessler said, is to promote a culture of safety. He said the majority of deaths of police officers in the line of duty was the result of preventable accidents.
In January, he said, the Board of Supervisors will launch a voluntary gun turn-in program to encourage citizens who find guns to call the police and have them picked up. The police get a few calls every week from someone who finds weapons while clearing out a house after a death.
Roessler’s third mission is ensuring the FCPD keeps pace with the county’s urbanization. He wants police officers understand how Tysons is being redeveloped and how the department needs to respond to an area with highrise buildings and high-volume rail stations.
He is assigning a team to develop a template for urban policing in Tysons, including a foot patrol, bike patrol, rail policing, and possibly the use of Segways. In early 2014, that team will train other police officers on dealing with other urbanized areas throughout the county.
Among the challenges Roessler cited are the need for more resources and the difficulty of developing a more diverse police force. When compared with the general population of Fairfax County, “we’re not in good shape,” he said. Eighty-one percent of sworn officers are white, and only 6.5 percent are Hispanic. Fairfax County is about 63 percent white, 9 percent black, 18 percent Asian, 16 percent Hispanic, and 10 percent other or multiracial.
A demographic balance is important because the police department needs to build trust within segments of the community that come from places where the police force is corrupt and viewed with fear. Roessler convened a council with members from various cultures to get their advice on how to reach out to different communities and the best approaches for attracting new recruits.
Another challenge is the lack of enough mental health facilities. All eight of the homicides in the county this year and most of the violent crimes have been committed by people with mental health issues, Roessler said.
Finally, Roessler will be ramping up planning for the World Police and Fire Games, to be hosted by Fairfax County in the summer of 2015. This international athletic event is expected to draw more than 10,000 competitors.