The toll of police shootings in Fairfax
By Editorial Board August 15
FAIRFAX COUNTY’S police force, which has become notorious for withholding information in cases of police-involved shootings — even going so far as failing to report incidents for the FBI’s use in compiling national statistics — has made a gesture toward openness. The department, with 1,372 officers the state’s biggest local police agency, has issued a breakdown of every police-involved shooting, and its aftermath, within its 407-square-mile borders over the past decade — a useful step in the direction of transparency.
The data are at once familiar and novel. Cases made notorious in the headlines — Salvatore J. Culosi, the unarmed optometrist, shot to death in 2006; David A. Masters, the unarmed former Green Beret, shot to death in 2009; John Geer, the unarmed father of two, shot to death in his own doorway in 2013 — are reprised. So is the melee in 2006 in which a gunman wielding an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons attacked a police station in Chantilly, fatally wounding a detective and another officer before he was killed in the crossfire.
In all, starting in 2005, the department details 37 instances of police-involved shootings, and their toll: 16 civilians killed, and another 16 wounded.
In 13 of those instances, the civilians on whom the police opened fire were unarmed, although in most cases they were driving vehicles in a way that the officer or officers at the scene perceived as dangerous or threatening.
The good news, we suppose, is that it appears police-involved shootings in the county have been occurring with somewhat less frequency. After several years of six or seven such incidents annually, there has been no year with more than three since 2008 — and none so far this year.
The data and, especially, the descriptions of individual incidents are a reminder of the hazards of police work and the enormous pressure under which officers are sometimes forced to make highly charged, split-second decisions.
They are also a reminder of how reluctant Fairfax, like many other states and localities, has been to find fault with officers who open fire in the line of duty.
Out of the 37 shootings examined in the past decade, only five have been adjudged to constitute a violation of Fairfax police rules and regulations. In no instance in the past decade, nor in the several decades before that, have county prosecutors found a police officer criminally liable for having opened fire.
That long precedent may be upset in the coming weeks if a special grand juryconvened to review the shooting of Geer hands up an indictment of Adam D. Torres, the officer who shot Geer as he stood at the threshold of his home in Springfield two years ago. Mr. Torres was fired from the police force late last month.
It’s worth noting that the decision to call a grand jury to examine Mr. Torres’s actions in the Geer case came about only after months of pressure by a judge, a U.S. senator, local elected officials and the media. Hopefully the police in Fairfax are starting to get the message that openness is a critical part of their compact with the community their serve.