Fairfax County’s independent police auditor has published its annual report, showing an increase in police shootings but a decrease in use-of-force complaints last year.
The county’s Board of Supervisors established the Office of the Independent Police Auditor (OIPA) in 2016 to increase trust between residents and the police department “by providing accountability, fairness, and transparency in the complaint system and investigative process,” the report stated.
The auditor, Richard Schott, reviews all investigations of death or serious injury cases conducted by the Fairfax County Police Department’s internal affairs bureau as well as use-of-force investigations that are the subject of a public complaint.
According to the report released on March 14, the office monitored or reviewed 22 police investigations in 2022, covering incidents from 2019 to 2022. Automatic monitoring kicked in for 12 investigations: 10 officer-involved shootings, and two cases involving a death or serious injury. Nine investigations were for use-of-force allegations.
“The types of force used by FCPD officers in these allegations were varied and included two takedowns, two uses of force to cuff, one brandished firearm, one strike, and one assault,” the report reads.
In 2022, the office closed or published reports on eight incidents from 2019 to 2022. Five cases involved using force, two were police shootings, and one involved a patrol dog bite.
Although the auditor found that all eight investigations met the standards of “being complete, thorough, accurate, objective, and impartial,” he made three recommendations:
- Requiring a warning before releasing a patrol service dog.
- Adding non-criminal factors when considering whether force was objectively reasonable during a non-criminal situation.
- Training on the proper conduct of searches incident to a lawful arrest.
The police department implemented all three recommendations, according to the report.
In 2022, the office started reviewing investigations into 13 incidents. Twelve of the reviews remain open, continuing into this year.
As shown by police data, last year saw an uptick in shootings by officers, a trend that has drawn scrutiny particularly after a fatal shooting at Tysons Corner Center on Feb. 22.
From 2017 to 2021, the OIPA reviewed eight officer-involved shootings, including two of domesticated animals. However, in 2022, the FCPD had seven police shootings, with the victim in one being a dog.
The office received just one use-of-force complaint from the public in 2022 — the fewest ever — compared to a high of 12 in 2018.
In 2020, the office commissioned the University of Texas at San Antonio to conduct a police use-of-force study. It found that officers use force too often and more than should be expected against both Black and white civilians.
Based on the study’s findings, the county’s Use of Force Community Advisory Committee made its own recommendations to the police department. They include collecting more specific data on use-of-force incidents and clarifying in policy when force may be used.
Schott supported most of the committee’s recommendations, but disagreed with some suggested revisions to the FCPD’s use of force policy that would set a higher standard for when force can be used.
The committee recommended requiring that force be “necessary and proportional” to the circumstances, arguing that the existing “objective reasonableness” standard “has proved unfairly deferential to officers” by focusing on the moment force is used rather than the events leading up to its use.
Schott said in a memo last May that the policy should not “be overly restrictive,” stating that an officer’s conduct preceding a use of force should be considered but the “two analyses should remain separate and distinct.”
The FCPD chose not to incorporate a recommendation of replacing the term “less-lethal” with “non-deadly” force throughout the policy. That change was first recommended in 2017.
In a statement to FFXnow, FCPD Lt. James Curry said the term “less-lethal” is defined as any level of force not designed to cause death or serious injury.
“FCPD believes it best reflects the intent of the level of force and is consistent with many other agencies’ policy across the country,” Curry said.
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