Police reform may be progressing, but not police diversity
• Dec 27, 2016
If you’ve not been following the Fairfax County Supervisors’ actions to implement the recommendations from the Ad Hoc Commission on Police Practices for the last 14 months, let’s briefly catch you up.
The Commission, consisting of 36 members including 10 active or retired police, submitted its final report to the Fairfax County Supervisors in October 2015. The report contained 202 unanimous, transformational recommendations to restore accountability and public trust in the Fairfax County Police Department.
To date, the FCPD and other county offices have implemented, or “implemented with modifications” over sixty per cent of the recommendations. Another 25 per cent were approved in principle, with details, some critical, still to be finalized. Ten per cent more complicated or contentious ones are still under review. Four percent were not implemented.
In sum, this is better progress than many of us expected. Supervisors deserve credit for pushing ahead in the face of often strong resistance from three unions.
Recommendations “implemented with modifications” include some major changes from Commission proposals. For example, the “independent police auditor” lost some independence and had its role in criminal investigations restricted. Proposed reforms calling for more transparency and accountability to the public face stiffest opposition and delay. Examples include proposals to require prompt disclosure of names of officers killing citizens and, to adopt body cameras for all officers. The former was finally approved but with lots of wiggle room, and the latter is still awaiting even a limited pilot test, perhaps in 2017.
A recommendation to encourage the use of less lethal force by requiring all officers to carry Tasers (in addition to guns) is still being debated. While overall percentages look good, a closer look reveals critical, not cosmetic, exceptions.
There is one area where I believe the Commission failed to deliver recommendations likely to lead to change. The Commission was charged with reviewing the composition of the force and making recommendations to improve its diversity. The force is a bastion of white males in a diverse county. Women and minorities are grossly underrepresented, a situation which has not improved in the last several years.
Whites make up only 63 % of the county population, but 83 % of the force (only 1 in 8 of are women); blacks make up 9 % of the population, but only about 7 % of the force; Latinos are 16 % of the population, but are just under 5 % of the force; and Asian Americans make up over 10% of the population, but only 4 % of the force.
The Commission’s subcommittee on Recruitment and Diversity offered only two recommendations to improve diversity:
1) establish a diversity goal for each (of 8) commanders; and,
2) educate and train recruiting and selecting officers about implicit bias.
That’s it, nothing more. The supervisors adopted both verbatim, thus apparently deferring action toward a force composition reflecting the community they serve. Perhaps the board’s number one New Year’s resolution should be to formulate and implement some serious affirmative action in the FCPD.
To see the Commission’s recommendations and implementation progress to date, go to www.fairfaxcountypolicecommission and scroll down to “progress report”.
Happy New Year to all!