Fairfax County police propose hitting the brakes on vehicle pursuits

(Updated at 7:30 p.m.) Fairfax County is cutting back on what’s allowed to start a police vehicle pursuit, including eliminating the leading cause of pursuits.

At a meeting late last month with the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee, Police Chief Kevin Davis outlined some of the changes that he said will help bring Fairfax County in line with other regional jurisdictions.

“It gets to the basic question: is it worth it to pursue this person,” Davis said. “When we looked at our policy, we found that it was not consistent with surrounding jurisdictions.”

Davis said the department has reduced the number of “pursuit opportunities” including for traffic violations, which were previously the biggest cause for vehicle pursuits.

“That’s our largest number of pursuits,” Davis said. “That will significantly reduce the number of pursuits.”

The change comes as increasing urbanization in Fairfax County creates concerns that pursuits are more likely to lead to injuries for those involved in a pursuit or bystanders.

Five possible reasons for pursuit are eliminated under the new regulations:

  • Misdemeanor offense with the threat/use of violence
  • Non-violent felonies
  • Certain misdemeanors
  • Traffic charges
  • Assistance to outside police that doesn’t meet FCPD standards

That last change means Fairfax County police officers will not join in a pursuit if the cause of pursuit falls outside of the new guidelines.

Major Robert Blakley said this brings Fairfax County in line with most of its neighbors and will make it easier for police to understand.

“We wanted to increase the clarity for our supervisors and officers, who have to make these split second decisions,” Blakley said, “so they don’t have to recall 47 pages but can hone in on a few key objectives.”

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust praised the change.

“This is so much better than the current [policy],” Foust said. “We’ve had some bad incidents. This is going to save lives, so I’m really excited about it.”

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, on the other hand, had reservations about the change: worrying it would tie police’s hands and keep them from stopping dangerous behavior.

“My big concern is always the unintended consequences…where we can’t pull over the loud cars anymore proliferating throughout the county,” Herrity said. “What I worry is, when you take this away, the criminals know the laws as much, if not better than, we do. You look on the TV and you see groups of ATVs rolling through National Harbor, endangering civilians, and they’re not doing anything other than traffic violation so there’s no pursuit.”

Davis said the issue had come up as much or more than any other over the last several months, adding that there’s room in the policy for commanders to use discretion to authorize pursuits if deemed necessary.

“We’re not going to ignore those behaviors because they are very dangerous, and if they fit the pursuit criteria, it will be addressed accordingly,” he said. “We will have to find other creative ways, whether with aviation or cameras, to identify these folks because it is very dangerous.”

The FCPD public affairs office said the department is planning a public input session next week to allow for more discussion on the topic, though no date has been decided yet.

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