Man wins decades-long battle to get FCPD to use community names, not postal addresses, in crime reports

Fairfax County police car with lights flashing (file photo)

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) The long-fought activism of one local resident has culminated in the Fairfax County Police Department changing its approach to publicly identifying where crimes occur.

Arlington-based blogger Dave Statter announced on Wednesday, July 12 that Police Chief Kevin Davis has committed to having FCPD public information officers and social media channels use community names, rather than postal addresses, in public safety announcements, clearing up decades of confusion.

A crash in the Fort Belvoir area, for instance, will no longer be described as happening in Alexandria, when the city’s limits are almost 10 miles away.

Known for his coverage of fire, EMS and police issues on Twitter and his blog, Statter argues that relying on postal addresses when informing the public of crime and safety incidents leads news outlets to share “imprecise” reports that associate murders or robberies in the wrong jurisdiction.

He says this issue is most relevant in Falls Church and Alexandria, two independent cities that share often unclear boundaries with Fairfax County.

The frequent conflation of the two cities with Fairfax County stems from the U.S. Postal Service giving a large swath of Fairfax County residents with Falls Church and Alexandria addresses, Statter claims. These addresses are provided to news outlets by PIOs when pinpointing the location of a crime, giving “people the impression that more crime was occurring in Alexandria [and Falls Church] than what was actually occurring,” Statter told FFXnow.

“The postal service created these artificial boundaries that don’t align with the real political boundaries that are on the map,” Statter said. “And you will often find a national story that says something that occurred in a town somewhere, but it really didn’t occur in that town — it was outside that town in a different jurisdiction. So it’s a problem that people have ignored for many years. I’m trying not to let them ignore it.”

The “general confusion” around city and county limits has also left many residents scratching their heads over where they really live and generated constant citizen inquiries to local governing bodies, Falls Church Communication Director Susan Finarelli says.

“People try to pay taxes to the city of Falls Church when, in fact, they live in Fairfax County,” Finarelli said. “…It is something that City of Falls Church government employees deal with all the time. I even copy and paste a statement of, ‘Oh, thank you so much for your email. Your address is actually in the Fairfax County part of Falls Church. Here’s how you can contact Fairfax County for that service.’”

To remedy this issue, which he says is not only endemic to Northern Virginia but the entire country, Statter has spent 41 long years advocating for PIOs and news outlets to instead use community and neighborhood names, such as Bailey’s Crossroads or Mount Vernon.

The late Gerry Glaubitz, former fire chief and mayor of Morningside, Maryland, first “sensitized” Statter to the issue when he worked as a reporter for WTOP and WUSA9, Statter says.

Now, decades later, Statter has finally made good on a promise to Glaubitz to challenge what he calls a “misleading” reporting practice.

After getting Davis’ attention through a tagged tweet, Statter and Davis met over a cup of coffee, where Davis expressed that he shared the same concerns and promised that he would have FCPD information channels transition to using community names in reports.

Noting that it still primarily uses addresses or block numbers to identify incident locations, the FCPD acknowledged that its tweets have been adjusted “to cater to community interest and sentiment” when dealing with areas that may be confusing.

Statter says he saw FCPD make substantial changes online within two hours of speaking with Davis.

Whether FCPD is making changes explicitly or not, Finarelli says Falls Church is “excited” and “definitely in support” of the usage of community and neighborhood names over postal addresses.

“Overall, [the change is] a great benefit to the community [and] to the folks who live and work and shop out here so that when they see an incident, they know exactly where it’s happening or it has happened,” Finarelli said. “It’s a great community service for Fairfax County to better pinpoint where an incident has happened.”

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson similarly voiced support for the change, echoing the need for increased accuracy in reports released by the county, then spread through the media.

“I think having a commitment by the Fairfax County police and other elements of the Fairfax County government to be more accurate in how they communicate to the media particularly, but also to the public, is really, really important,” Wilson told FFXnow. “I think [the change] will go a long way because there’s so many times where you’ll turn on the TV, and you’ll hear NBC or Fox…saying this incident, this stabbing, this whatever has occurred in Alexandria, and we’ll get a call from people saying, ‘Wait, where did this happen?’ And we’ll say, ‘No, it was actually in the county, it wasn’t in the city.’”

Finarelli says Falls Church hopes to continue educating its residents about city versus county boundaries through social media campaigns, with the city already having spearheaded an interactive quiz on the topic last summer.

“It’s certainly evergreen to get people to understand where the city lines are just so they know who’s providing the services that they’re looking for,” Finarelli said.

Read more on FFXnow…

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