Reston, VA

Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. defended his department’s longstanding use of force policies and commitment to the sanctity of human life as national protests call for dramatic police reforms.

At a meeting with county officials today (Tuesday), Roessler Jr. stated that FCPD’s policies surrounding use of force, the use of chokeholds, and de-escalation are well ahead of many reforms requested by protestors across the country.

Currently, chokeholds are not allowed as a use of force options. De-escalation is required when possible and officers are trained two times per year in order to reinforce the use of force continuum and training. Shooting at moving vehicles is prohibited unless there is a “threat of death or serious injury” to the officer or another person, according to police documents.

“These reform endeavors have not ended as we continue told ourselves accountable,” he said.

FCPD’s use of force policy aims to gain voluntary compliance from the other person using seven core pillars, which include principles like self-control, empathy, balance, realism, and a commitment to lack of humiliation.

A study on FCPD’s use of force culture is underway. The report, which is conducted by University of Texas at San Antonio researchers, was prompted by another study that found roughly 40 percent of all use-of-force incidents involved Black individuals.

Earlier the month, FCPD officer Tyler Timberlake was charged on three counts of assault and battery in what FCPD said was an “unacceptable” use of force.

When prompted by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Roessler Jr. noted that FCPD’s training requirements “typically exceed state mandates.”

The county is currently working on implementing a countywide body-worn camera program. Although the Reston District Station and three other stations have body-worn cameras, the full implementation of the program was delayed due to budgetary concerns.

Recent events, including the killing of George Floyd, have prompted the board to expedite funding for the program. An updated plan will be developed by the end of the month, according to FCPD.

FCPD is also testing a new technology that would automatically turn on the body-worn camera when an officer takes a gun out of the holster.

Major Paul Cleveland noted that the department follows a co-produced policing model, which relies on community support and input to develop policing practices in line with community expectations.

Currently, the police department is taking a look at ensuring its internal culture emphasizes the well-being of officers and de-escalatory practices.

He says FCPD will continue to monitor ways to improve its practices.

“Reform is the right way to go,” he said.

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Fairfax County officials want to see the rollout of body-worn cameras for Fairfax County police happen as soon as possible to increase transparency with policing.

“The events in the last couple of weeks both across the country and in Fairfax made the importance of expanding the police body-worn camera program apparent both for improved public safety and transparency,” Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement.

Yesterday, the Board of Supervisors approved asking county staff to look for potential revenue sources to implement the second phase of the program as quickly as possible. The county directed staff to report back by June 30 with the funding options and a potential timeline for the rest of the phases.

McKay said that the county wants to resume the implementation of the program’s second phase during the 2021 fiscal year.

Earlier this year, the county board delayed funding for the phased program due to budget challenges posed by COVID-19, but still kept an increase of $1.77 million increase for the first phase of the program.

Three county district stations already have the cameras, including the Reston District Station.

The motion follows recent calls from several supervisors, including Walter Alcorn and John Foust, to continue the program in the other parts of the county.

County officials are looking for ways to move forward with the program in response to rising concerns about police transparency and use of force following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a Fairfax County police officer allegedly assaulting a black man in the Mt. Vernon area. The Fairfax County officer is facing three counts of misdemeanor assault and battery.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said that he was initially willing to delay the cameras before, but now said he sees an immediate need for the cameras.

Storck noted that the body-worn camera footage of the Mt. Vernon incident, which the police department released on Sunday (June 7), “dramatically changed” conversations between the police and the community.

Storck added that the police officers he’s spoken to support the cameras.

“I join my colleagues in deep disappointment in what we saw on that police camera this weekend,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “It shows that it works.”

McKay mentioned said that the action of a handful of officers — “is not indicative” of the thousands of officers in the Fairfax County Police Department. McKay called the police department “committed” and “well trained.”

He thanked both the police chief and commonwealth’s attorney for their “quick response” to the incident.

Fairfax County Adding Equity Task Force

Work to speed up the police cameras is one of several steps the county is taking to address inequity.

“There is no one policy or program we can enact today that will solve every issue,” McKay said, pointing to previous efforts like adding the county’s Police Civilian Review Panel and independent police auditor.

The Board of Supervisors also unveiled yesterday a new equity task force. “We know this is an issue that requires constant vigilance,” McKay said.

“The Chairman’s Taskforce on Equity and Opportunity will explore the range of situations and conditions that contribute to disproportionate trends, facilitate shared responsibility and collective action, build on the strengths of our community, and lift up solutions to make all residents and neighborhoods more resilient,” according to county documents.

McKay said that the task force will be coordinated by Karla Bruce, the county’s chief equity officer, and her staff with his office. Costs will be absorbed within the existing budget, McKay said.

Each supervisor will provide recommendations for who should serve on the task force, McKay said. He added that the county is aiming for a geographically and demographically balanced membership “to make sure this group is attempting to represent this county as a whole.”

Palchik noted that the county took the “first step forward as we battle through this crisis,” adding that she wants the county to address housing and pre-K programs to combat inequity.

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Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn says that all Fairfax County police district stations should have body-worn cameras as soon as possible.

Although three of the county’s district stations — including the Reston District Station — already have the devices, plans to implement the program countywide were stalled due to budgetary constraints posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I support implementation in the other five police districts ASAP because the program should not be limited to only part of the county,” Alcorn said.

He added that bodywork cameras are “good for government transparency and accountability” and the county’s police officers.

County officials delayed the rollout of the program, which would have equipped officers with more than 1,200 cameras across the county.

Although funding was delayed for other stations, the county’s budget still maintained an increase of $1.77 million to support the full year of the program.

The program was implemented after a 2018 pilot study by American University researchers. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the $4 million program in late 2019.

Alcorn said his office received several queries about the status of the program following the killing of George Floyd and other events across the country.

Photo via Fairfax County Police Department

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Police officers at the Reston District Station will be among the first to wear body cameras as the county-wide program begins next month.

This year, the Reston, Mason and Mount Vernon District Station, which took part in a pilot program in 2018, will receive a combined total of 416 cameras. Training on how to use the devices is currently underway.

The program is expected to result in 13 new positions, including three in the police department, eight in the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and two in the Department of Information Technology.

But it’s unclear when the rest of the county will receive the cameras. Although a three-year implementation plan with funding was originally planned for, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill to delay the rollout of the program.

The proposed budget — which was scaled back considerably in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — maintains an increase of $1.77 million to support the first full year of the program. The $4 million was first approved in late 2019 by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Colonel Edwin Roessler said the police department hopes the program through despite revisions to the latest budget.

“We are committed to seeing the body-worn camera program through to full implementation,” Roessler said.

Photo via Fairfax County Police Department

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Delays are expected for the rollout of the Fairfax County Police Department’s body-worn camera program.

In Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill’s revised budget for fiscal year 2021, the county plans to push back funding for 338 cameras for the Sully, McLean, and West Springfield Stations in the second year of the program.

The county is also revisiting funding plans for 456 cameras for the third year of the program at the Fair Oaks, Franconia and South County district stations.

The proposed budget — which was scaled back considerably in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — maintains an increase of $1.77 million to support the first full year of the program.

Funding is expected to remain for 416 cameras that will be issued to the Reston, Mason and Mt. Vernon police stations, according to county budget documents.

“The funding supports the maintenance of the program implemented in FY 2020 but does not expand the program as originally planned.”

In late 2019, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved $4 million to begin implementation of the program.

Officers in the Reston District Station were expected to receive the cameras next month.

Photo via FCPD

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Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved today (Tuesday) $4 million to begin implementation of police body worn cameras.

The Fairfax County Police Department is set to receive roughly 1,200 body-worn cameras that would be phased in over three years with a five-year contract for equipment, licensing and storage.

Officers from the Reston District Station are expected to receive the body worn cameras in May 2020.

The approval comes amid mixed results of a recent American University study on the county’s pilot program and some concern about the cost of the program.

Before the vote, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity shared concerns about the fiscal impact of the proposal.

Herrity said that he has concerns about the funding coming from the reserve — one-time fund — and that body worn cameras are getting prioritized over increases in police officers’ pay.

“This is going to set our public safety budget back by millions of dollars,” Herrity said, adding that he wants more information about the extra costs the cameras will place on the Public Defenders’ Office.

While Herrity also took issue with the approval for the funding happening outside of the budget cycle, Chairman Sharon Bulova said it’s necessary to have the funding before the budget decisions in May.

The $4.3 million approved by the board today comes from the Reserve for Ad-Hoc Police Practices Review Commission Recommendations.

“This amount will cover the initial cost of equipment, infrastructure enhancements and will allow for the immediate recruitment and hiring of personnel to ensure a seamless implementation on or about May 1,” according to county documents.

In response to Herrity’s concerns that the program is meant to address national issues with police, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said that the program is not trying to address criticism of police outside of Fairfax County.

“The overwhelming support in the community for doing this is important. We know our community pretty well and we know the respect the community has for the Fairfax County Police Department,” Foust said. “We have the tech to do it, and we should move forward.”

Story by Catherine Douglas Moran; Fatimah Waseem contributed reporting

File photo

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Fairfax County officials want to take a closer look at the costs linked to adding body worn cameras to the county’s police department.

After studies observing the impact of police officers wearing body cameras while on duty, several members on the Board of Supervisors came out in support of the new proposal draft. As body worn cameras get closer to receiving the board’s approval, two supervisors want more information to determine the fiscal impact of the project.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity kicked off the discussion of the body worn cameras at the Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday (Sept. 17) by asking what the fiscal impact would be.

The program would cost about $6.2 million by fiscal year 2022, Deputy County Executive for Public Safety Dave Rohrer told the board.

“That includes the Commonwealth Department of Information Technology, the police officers, the cameras, the storage and equipment,” Rohrer said. “It’s an all-in number.”

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook said that if Board of Supervisors approves the action items on the body worn cameras at the meeting next Tuesday (Sept. 24), he will request a report on how it could affect the budget for the Public Defenders’ Office.

Cook noted that the presentation about the pilot program included information about costs for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Photo via Fairfax County Police Department

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on a body-worn camera program for the Fairfax County Police Department later this month.

If the board’s public safety committee votes in favor of the program today (Tuesday), the board will likely vote on the project on September 24.

Earlier this year, American University researchers analyzed the effects of body-worn cameras on the use of force, changes in policing activities, community members’ assessments of police legitimacy, and the number of community complaints. The report detailed mixed findings. While residents supported the adoption of the program, there was no evidence the cameras directly impacted community member’s satisfied with FCPD.

The program, which would be phased out over three years, will cost $4.3 million next year — a sum that will be covered from the county’s reserve funds. In 2021, the program is expected to cost $5.5 million and roughly $1.1 million in 2022.

If approved, more than 1,200 camera will be deployed to all district stations. Overall, 34 new full-time employees will be hired, including five staff members for FCPD, 23 staff members for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and six positions with the Department of Information Technology.

Police officers at the Reston District Station — which was included in last year’s pilot program — would be the first to receive the devices if the program is approved.

School Resource Officers are also expected to receive body-worn cameras. However, the committee cautioned that decisions to deploy the devices will be made in concert with the Fairfax County School Board and the Board of Supervisors.

The county contracted American University researchers to study the effects of the pilot program after FCPD Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. recommended implementing the program in June 2015. A six-month pilot began in March last year in the Mason, Mount Vernon and Reston district stations.

At a committee meeting in June, board supervisors largely expressed support for the program.

Photo via FCPD

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Fairfax County Board of Supervisors largely expressed support for equipping police officers in the county with body-worn cameras, despite mixed results from a recent pilot program.

At a July 9 public safety meeting, most supervisors said body-worn cameras would improve police accountability and community-police relations — particularly among minorities. The meeting was held to review results of the county’s pilot program last year.

If approved by the county’s board, the program would disseminate 1,210 body-worn cameras throughout the county over five years. Police at the Reston District Station would be the first to receive the devices.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova said that failing to implement the program would put the county at a disadvantage, especially when residents can record encounters with police. Without body-worn cameras, Bulova said the police department lacks a critical record of interactions that could be questioned or doctored.

Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, who also supports the program, said that while public confidence in the police department may be high currently, public sentiment could change within the next five years.

However, a 119-page report from American University researchers, found that while residents and police officers generally supported the program, its perceived benefits were largely minimal.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said he was unconvinced the program was worth the cost. Early estimates indicate the program could cost $30 million over five years, including funding for storage capacity and legal staff required to review and log footage.

“To me, it’s a question of priorities,” Herrity said. He would rather see the county reinvest money into retention, training and community policing efforts.

Others, however, said the American University report does not fully capture the views of minorities, especially Hispanics and African Americans who may have different encounters and different concerns with law enforcement.

Addressing the concerns of people of color is especially critical, said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said that some of the data points in the report were too general and did not capture specific demographic segments.

“It is misleading to speak in generalities,” Foust said.

Photo via Fairfax County Police Department

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The results of an analysis on the county’s pilot body-worn camera program are officially in. Researchers at American University found that the six-month pilot project could have limited results in enhancing policy-community relations increasing police legitimacy and accountability.

In a 119-page report that uses survey data from residents and police officers, researchers found that people had “modest expectations” about the necessity and benefit of body-worn cameras.

Less than half of survey respondents and interviewees noted that the devices would reduce complaints against officers, improve legitimacy or increase police accountability. Police officers also noted that it was unlikely that the devices would change their behavior or how community members responded to the police department.

“If the decision is not to deploy them, the high regard for the department will lead nearly everyone to conclude that it was the right decision for all,” the report states.

Researchers did not find any statistically significant changes in officer behavior and performance once the devices were deployed. They also found that respondents were unconvinced that the cameras would lessen the use of force by police.

The pilot program went into effect in March last year after Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler and a police commission suggested the idea. Last year, 191 cameras were deployed at the Mason, Mount Vernon and Reston District Station, yielding more than 12,000 hours of video.

The police department found that judges, clerks of the courts and staff from the office of the public defendant generally supported the program.

If the program is implemented, the county would deploy 1,210 body-worn cameras to all operational police officers over five years. The Reston, Mason and Mt. Vernon district stations would be the first to get the cameras.

The program could cost nearly $30 million over a five-year contract period. The county would have to hire staff to manage the technical aspects of the equipment, improve station infrastructure and ensure public records laws were being followed.

Additionally, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney would need nearly $3.1 million for 23 positions to help review the footage, roughly $773,000 to help the court system use the videos generated by the cameras in the court-rooms, and $150,000 to boost storage capacity to capture video evidence.

The county still has to mull several issues:

  • The impact of the devices on prosecutors, public defenders and the court system is entirely unclear
  • The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office cannot accommodate planned growth
  • Whether or not cameras should be given to School Resources Officers
  • Training requirements for the defense bar
  • The possibility that future contract costs could increase

The report will be presented to the county’s Public Safety Committee today (July 9).

Photo via FCPD

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Police officers in Reston will no longer be equipped with body-worn cameras, as the pilot program ends in three Fairfax County police stations.

The program began in mid-February after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the pilot program in November last year. Three stations – Mason, Mount Vernon and Reston – participated in the program.

Reston was added to the program in March because extra equipment was available. Police department officers also said Reston’s location near several high-rise buildings and the Silver Line provided unique data from patrol units.

A research team at American University will study the program’s effectiveness and interview trained officers and community members to determine the effect the equipment on police activity and perception of police legitimacy in the community.

The team will also analyze data about the number and type of complaints filed against officers during the time the pilot program was in effect.

A report is expected in early 2019. The program cost roughly $684,000 in fiscal year 2018.

File photo

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Selected police officers from the Reston District Station will begin wearing body cameras in March as part of the Fairfax County Police Department’s pilot program that was approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors last month.

The station was added to the program, which originally would have outfitted all patrol officers in the Mount Vernon and Mason district stations, because extra equipment is available, police said.

Researchers from American University who are studying the program determined it was more appropriate to outfit half of the patrol officers in each district in order to create a control group that would allow researchers to compare data between officers who do and do not have body cameras and work in the same area of the county.

“The Reston area was chosen because it differs from the two police districts already included in the program. The patrol areas within the Reston District include a number of high-rise buildings as well as stops along Metro’s Silver Line. Additionally, our Reston District Police Station is the newest building among our stations, and already has the physical infrastructure in place to accommodate the technical needs of the program,” the police department said in a statement.

The pilot program includes 230 cameras, which will be worn on the outside of the officer’s uniform or vest on a full-time basis. The addition of the Reston District Station is not projected to increase the cost of the three-month program, which will cost roughly $684,000 in fiscal year 2018. The department has the option of extending the program from three to six months.

In an Oct. 2015 report, the county’s Ad Hoc Police Review Commission recommended the program in order to increase community trust, improve evidence collection, decrease the number of complains against police officers and drive a “civilizing effect.”

“Statistics have clearly shown a decrease in use of force encounters, and in the resultant number of complaints by civilians against the local police departments once those departments employ [body cameras]. The reduction in complaints and the level of violence from both law enforcement officers and civilians with whom they interact daily perhaps serves as the greatest motivation for FCPD to begin using the cameras,” according to the report.

Cameras will record during any encounter of law enforcement and the pubic related to a call for service, a law enforcement action, subject stop, traffic stop, search or police service. Police officers are also expected to activate the devises in a private resident so long as officers have the legal authority to be in that location.

The devices are from Axon, a law enforcement technology giant formerly known as Taser International.

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