So, if you sift through the double talk, nothing has changed
Annual police report highlights community engagement, department reform
By Angela Woolsey/Fairfax County Times
The Fairfax County Police Department has undergone some significant changes over the past couple of years, as evidenced by the FCPD Annual Report for 2015, which the department’s public affairs bureau released on May 3.
After receiving recommendations issued by an ad hoc commission established by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to review department practices, the FCPD adopted several new policies or initiatives aimed at improving relations with community members while emphasizing the importance of trust and transparency.
“The Fairfax County Police Department has engaged with the community to continually learn and re-engineer our policies and practices,” FCPD Chief Edwin Roessler wrote in the report. “In [calendar year] 2015, the Fairfax community and the men and women of the police department continued to achieve our vision of preventing and fighting crime, increasing a culture of safety by valuing the preservation of the sanctity of life for all, and keeping pace with urbanization.”
According to the report, crime was down slightly in 2015 from the previous year, decreasing from 38,561 to 38,306 crimes, a noticeably smaller drop than what the county saw between 2014 and 2013, when there were 41,704 crimes.
More than 25,000 of the incidents reported in 2015 were crimes against property, a category that includes arson, robbery, vandalism, and financial crimes like fraud, extortion and counterfeiting.
By comparison, there were 7,712 crimes against persons, which are calculated based on the number of victims and include assault, homicide and sexual offenses, and 5,388 crimes against society, which include drug, gambling, prostitution, pornography and weapons law offenses.
There were 13 homicides in Fairfax County in 2015, up from 10 in 2014, with six of those murders occurring in the Mount Vernon district, according to a more detailed FCPD statistical report for 2014 and 2015.
Three of the department’s 2015 homicide cases remain active, according to the annual report.
2015 saw a drop of approximately 25 percent in the number of victims of sex offenses from 2014. The most significant changes came in the Mount Vernon and Mason districts, where the number of victims dropped from 50 to 22 and 45 to 28, respectively, though the Sully district experienced an increase with its victim total rising from 12 to 25.
The number of crimes against property and society both stayed about the same from 2014 to 2015.
2015 also saw a decrease in the number of arrests, which have declined since 2013, despite a slight increase in calls for service.
However, one of the biggest focuses of the 2015 FCPD annual report is not crime, but rather, the department’s efforts to create what it calls a “culture of engagement.”
Concerns about the police department’s relationship with the community it serves cropped up following the 2013 shooting of Springfield resident John Geer by former Fairfax County police officer Adam Torres, who was fired from the department in August 2015 and pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Apr. 18.
Though Torres isn’t scheduled for a sentencing hearing until June 24, the county and police department have already worked to address the fallout from Geer’s shooting, which raised questions about the use of force and transparency regarding the release of information on officer-involved incidents.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, led by Chairman Sharon Bulova, created a “communities of trust” committee in January 2015 to “advance collaboration, partnerships, and outreach between public safety agencies and the communities they serve.”
Composed of citizens, the communities of trust committee works with the FCPD, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, and the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, along with state and federal agencies, the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system, and community and faith leaders.
The Board of Supervisors also formed an ad hoc commission to review FCPD practices on Mar. 3, 2015, and the commission presented 142 policy recommendations to the board on Oct. 20.
In addition to emphasizing the need for a department culture that values every citizen’s life, the commission recommended improved mental health and crisis intervention team (CIT) training as well as the establishment of a citizens’ review board and an independent audit position to provide oversight.
Though the Board of Supervisors is still in the process of reviewing many of the commission’s recommendations, the FCPD has implemented some of the suggested practices since the commission’s report came out.
Roessler said last year that the department has adopted the national decision-making model of policing, which teaches officers to assess risk, consider their options and develop a response strategy before taking action. The department has also revised its recruit training programs to focus on decision-making skills and mental health and crisis awareness before teaching weapons and marksmanship.
According to the FCPD 2015 annual report, community leader Mattie Palmore, an at-large commissioner on the Fairfax County Commission for Women, was responsible for mentoring recruits on “building trust and investing in the future of the communities” they will serve.
The department addressed the commission’s recommendations regarding mental health awareness and CIT training in part by developing the program Diversion First, which was originally spurred by the February 2015 death of inmate Natasha McKenna in a county jail.
Officially launched on Jan. 1, 2016, Diversion First allows police officers to bring low-risk offenders with mental illness or substance abuse issues to a treatment center instead of incarcerating them.
Roessler announced at a Feb. 11 press conference that the police department had diverted 103 people to the Merrifield Crisis Response Center in the first month of Diversion First.
The 2015 annual report shows that the FCPD launched 43 use-of-force investigations into incidents involving people suspected of having a mental health episode and received 2,838 calls for service involving people experiencing mental health issues that didn’t result in the use of force. It remains to be seen what kind of impact Diversion First will have on those numbers in the future.
The FCPD also spent 2015 heavily involved in the county’s efforts to combat a recent increase in the abuse of opioid-based prescription painkillers and heroin, participating in a regional Heroin Operations Team (HOT) along with several other agencies and jurisdictions in the area.
Fairfax County had 65 heroin overdoses and six heroin-related deaths in 2015, compared to 66 overdoses and 17 deaths in 2014, which rose from 41 overdoses and nine deaths in 2013. However, the FCPD annual report notes that these 2015 statistics are incomplete, since 39 cases are still pending with lab results that have yet to come in from Virginia’s state crime lab.
The annual report also covers community engagement efforts conducted by individual police districts as well as crime statistics for specific divisions, including animal control, the criminal investigations bureau, and the traffic division in the operations support bureau.
The report can be found in the “Inside FCPD” section on the FCPD’s website.