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Monday, June 20, 2016

Public Safety Day promotes positive community relations

Children check out the Virginia State Police SWAT vehicle.
Several branches of law enforcement showed off their gear at Public Safety Day at Bailey’s Elementary School June 18 for a family-friendly gathering aimed at building trust with the Culmore community.

There were children’s games, free food, information for parents, and an opportunity to explore a SWAT vehicle, FBI mobile command center, fire truck, and Fairfax County Police Department helicopter.


Police vs. kids tug of war.
The event was organized by the Fairfax County Communities of Trust Committee, a diverse coalition of groups aimed at fostering a positive relationship between public safety agencies and the public.

The committee was formed after a police officer killed an unarmed black youth in Ferguson, Mo., sparking widespread unrest. “We decided we needed to do something so we don’t have something like that happen here,” said committee Chair Shirley Ginwright, president of the Fairfax County NAACP. Also, she said, creating positive relationships might encourage children from diverse communities to choose careers in law enforcement when they grow up.

Inside the FBI mobile command center.
The committee works on “resolving issues members of the public have with law enforcement, especially when it comes to minority communities,” Ginwright said. In one recent example, a women didn’t like the way a police officer approached her during a traffic stop. “She didn’t want to complain to the police, so she came to us.”

With Public Safety Day, the idea is to bring law enforcement representatives to the community in a climate of mutual understanding and respect. Capt. Christian Quinn, the commander of the Mason Police District, called the event “an opportunity for the community to come out and get to know us.” There’s “no set agenda,” he said. “We’re not here conducting official business.”

Sheyly and Rudy inside the SWAT vehicle.
The FBI mobile command center on display at Public Safety Day is actually an obsolete vehicle that’s just used for community events. The last time it was used at a crime scene was during the mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., in 2013, said Serge Batatyrshin of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

The FBI now uses larger, more inconspicuous vehicles with more surveillance capabilities as “on-scene command and control” units during major actions, like terrorism or hostage situations or events with large crowds like the 4th of July celebration in D.C.

Members of the Fairfax County Auxiliary Police bring this pink car with police decals to community events as part of its "Pink Heals" campaign to highlight the concerns the police and public share with regard to breast cancer. People are encouraged to write notes of sympathy and caring on the car.
The police helicopter is “like a patrol officer in a cruiser,” said MPO Paul DeHaven, a tactical fight officer and paramedic, who posed for pictures with a copter parked on Bailey’s athletic field. 

It’s usually called up for a purpose, such as searching for suspects when there’s been a burglary or car thefts or searching for a missing person, DeHaven said. If it’s being used for another purpose, like the community aerial photo June 20 to show support for the victims of the Orlando tragedy, it will also do police surveillance on the way.



The Virginia State Police search and recovery vehicle, also on display at Public Safety Day, is used when there’s a need to search for evidence in a body of water, says state trooper Armando Santiago. Usually it’s something like a handgun used in a crime, stolen computer equipment, or even a car, but sometimes the team has to search for a body.

It’s so murky underwater, and a flashlight isn’t good when there’s a lot of sediment, he said, so “you have to feel around in the dark.”

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