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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Police commission proposes citizen panel to investigate misconduct

The Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission is urging the Board of Supervisor to establish a Civilian Review Panel to examine complaints from the public alleging police misconduct and abuse of power.

That’s likely the most contentious recommendation of the commission, as several supervisors raised questions during the Oct. 20 board meeting about why the panel is needed and why it should consist of civilians.

The ad hoc commission, chaired by Michael Hershman, was established by BoS chair Sharon Bulova last March following the widely condemned shooting of Springfield resident John Geer by a police officer in 2013.

The commission’s final report includes dozens of recommendations addressing the use of force, training, communications, and accountability. It will be up to the BoS to determine which recommendations to adopt.

In another key recommendation the commission urges the Board of Supervisors to establish an independent police auditor to review death and serious injury cases and other police issues. The auditor would report directly to the BoS. 

Among other recommendations, the report calls for the Fairfax County Police Department to:
  • Require all patrol officers to wear body cameras and use them to record all interactions with the public contingent on policies to protect individuals’ privacy.
  • Require officers to carry an electronic control weapon (taser) when on patrol and require detectives and plainclothes officers to keep a taser in their vehicle.
  • Prohibit use of a taser on a person who is handcuffed or on a frail or elderly person, child, or a pregnant woman unless deadly force would otherwise be justified.
  • Limit “use of force” to cases where it would be “objectively reasonable” to do so, taking into account the totality of circumstances and the officer’s responsibility to protect public safety and the suspect’s civil liberties.
  • In cases where the use of force is unavoidable, officers should “refrain from unwarranted infliction of pain or suffering and will never engage in cruel, degrading, or inhumane physical or verbal treatment of any person.”
  • The act of a police officer placing his or her weapon “in a ready gun position” at a suspect will be a reportable action. Officers involved in incidents resulting in death or serious injury should be subject to drug and steroid testing as soon as possible.
  • Reconstitute the FCPD’s Use of Force Committee to review the decision to use force, de-escalation alternatives, and related issues. Appoint at least civilians to this committee.
  • Share and regularly update news and details of all officer-involved shootings in multiple ways, provide the name of the officer as soon as possible, and in cases where a suspect is shot dead, make available camera and audio recordings as soon as possible.
  • Release information on the demographics of the subjects in all use-of-force incidents including race, gender, age, whether mental health status was a factor,  and previous involvement with FCPD.
  • Increase engagement with the community and expand public information functions.
  • Promote a culture of transparency by providing more information to the public on police-involved shootings and other incidents in a more timely manner and develop an open-data policy on crime statistics.
  • Expand recruiting and marketing to attract more diverse candidates to the police force and set goals to enhance diversity within each department.
  • Adopt the Memphis Model for Crisis Intervention Team approach to train officers to more effectively interact with people with mental health issues and establish a “plain clothes mental health unit.”
  • Ensure that the department’s philosophy and policies are based on the idea that citizens should be treated respectfully and that the there is “an appropriate balance between an officer’s role as a guardian/warrior or peacemaker/fighter,” and that there is “a reverence for the sanctity of human life.”
  • Ensure that medical assistance will be provided to anyone who is injured or alleges injury.
  • Improve police training on the use of force and alternatives, such as de-escalation, tactical retreat,  verbal interactions, and crisis intervention techniques.
  • Improve screening of police recruits to weed out people with a propensity for being overly aggressive.


  1. "Improve screening of police recruits to weed out people with a propensity for being overly aggressive.' ?

    I'd love to know the motivation for including this recommendation. Weeding out badge heavy cops is certainly desirable, but my interaction with the FCPD suggests that there are already a fair number of department veterans who strive to assert their authority in as aggressive a manner as possible, even at traffic stops. Policing is one of the few remaining occupations in which a person with modest qualifications can wield a significant amount of power. That's particularly true in Ffx County where there's still no effective procedural mechanism for making police answer to the public for their actions. So, while I hope the Ad Hoc Commission's recommendations yield some results, I believe the public will be best served by the creation of a full time Police Commission with the authority to establish and enforce police procedures and discipline police officers.

    1. "Policing is one of the few remaining occupations in which a person with modest qualifications can wield a significant amount of power."

      Lol, you should take a stroll through a few offices up here at a particular unnamed DoD component. You might move to Canada.

    2. Perhaps some of the attitude comes with being by far the best-funded police force in the world in terms of dollars per cop? Anyway, I find interactions with Fairfax County Police about as hit or miss as most jurisdictions.

      The Fairfax City Police, however, simply need to be abolished and have thier responsibilities taken over by the county. Never in all my travels have I been forced to deal with a bunch of cops so uniformly parochial and drunk on power, whose implementations of such are made all the more unbearable by the fact that the city seems to demand that they be posted up in every available hidey-hole, to pounce dutifully on anyone capable of fattenning the courthouse coffers : bringing to swift and steely justice those despicable scofflaws who would besmirchify their fair city by jaywalking or doing 30 in a 25.

      Meanwhlie, Vienna's cops all seem downright helpful ... what's up, Fairfax City?

    3. Adam: It took the shooting of three unarmed civilians to finally put the FCPD under a microscope. Before the Geer incident, the attitude in Ffx was that police work is imprecise and that mistakes will inevitably happen. In other words, if you get shot by a cop you're collateral damage even if you're not resisting. Based on that precedent, I'm not settling for a hit or miss approach to dealing with these guys. It's obvious to me that they're still as opposed as ever to anyone impinging on their prerogatives. So, my preferred approach is to avoid them to the greatest extent possible. Hopefully, some of the more badge heavy types will eventually be weeded out, but I'm not betting my life on it.

    4. This County has become so provincial and unsophisticated it should be called Failfax County, the home of the keystone cops and the BoS " Board of Stupidity."

    5. To 8:37PM"
      That's just not fair.

  2. An independent police commission is sorely needed. The BoS failed miserably in exercising civilian control of the county's police department -- as is their responsibility -- when it failed to get ahead of the Geer incident and require the cops to report to the public.