A new bill could potentially significantly limit how long the Fairfax County Police Department and other state police departments can store data obtained through automated license plate readers (ALPRs).
As originally written, SB 1198 would bar police from storing data obtained by ALPRs for more than 30 days without a warrant or ongoing active investigation.
ALPRs have the ability to collect data and information like photos of license plates as well as a driver’s location at a particular date and time. They are often mounted on street poles, overpasses, or police square cars while a central server houses the data.
A number of civil liberty organizations like the ACLU have come out against the use of ALPRs as an invasion of privacy and chilling First Amendment protected activity.
The Virginia State Supreme Court ruled late last year that police departments are allowed to keep this data “indefinitely,” no warrant or investigation needed. This came after a Fairfax County judge ruled otherwise in 2019, saying that it was in violation of Virginia’s “Data Act.”
While some jurisdictions do purge this data relatively quickly, the Fairfax County Police Department does not.
Reston Now has confirmed that FCPD stores information collected by ALPRs for up to a year.
Their reasoning is that the information helps protect the community and locate missing persons.
“Using technology such as license plate recognition has improved our ability to safeguard Fairfax County,” Anthony Guglielmi, FCPD spokesperson, told Reston Now in a statement. “With that, we have stringent systems in place to protect the information privacy and constitutional rights of those we serve. We appreciate efforts to further study this important issue because it’s paramount that we strike an equitable balance between data retention and investigational integrity.”
The state bill was introduced by State Senator Chap Petersen who represents the 34th district, which covers Fairfax, Vienna, Oakton, and parts of Chantilly.
He introduced a similar bill back in 2014 and 2015, which limited storage of data to only seven days. That 2015 bill, which did have bipartisan support, was vetoed by Governor Terry McAuliffe.
“License plate readers… capture the movement of vehicles. They track who’s attending a church service, who’s attending a political rally, a gun show,” Petersen tells Reston Now. “It can be very arbitrary and very dangerous in that… it’s used to essentially put a layer of surveillance over citizens who are exercising their constitutional rights.”
The bill also notes that opportunities to secure employment, insurance, credit, and the right to due process could be “endangered by the misuse of certain of these personal information systems.”
That being said, Petersen notes his bill does not stop the collecting of this information but rather simply adds a “limitation” – 30 days – on how long information of this nature can be stored.
Additionally, the 30-day limitation is dropped if a warrant is obtained or there’s active criminal or missing person investigation.
“Frankly, it’s a pretty modest requirement,” he says.
Petersen says it’s this lack of “guardrails” that worry him and why he’s continued to propose bills of this nature.
“They say they have all types of internal controls. But who’s the judge of that?,” he says. “Who the heck knows who has access and who doesn’t. It’s the ability to use this [information] arbitrability or prejudicially that we have no control over.”
Besides police departments, information collected by ALPRs have also been used by revenue commissioners to confirm payment of property taxes (as is the case in Arlington County).
A slightly altered version of the bill did pass the Senate, but the House amended the bill to “establish a stakeholder workgroup to review the use of license plate readers” as a substitute for the 30-day limitation of storage.
“When my bill came out of the Senate, it was going to be an actual law. The House turned it into a study,” says Petersen. “Which basically kinda neuters it.”
The ACLU of Virginia agrees, with Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga writing Reston Now in an email that the organization “strongly supports SB1198 as introduced.”
“A requirement that government have a reason for collecting information about you and limiting the retention periods on data collected for no reason is reasonable,” she writes.
However, Petersen admits that it seems like he’s “hit a wall” in terms of getting his version of the bill passed. He doesn’t see a ton of value in a study, so he’s not going to accept the House amendment.
However, it does not alter his long-term goals that this bill could assist with.
“That’s limiting the amount of information the government can collect on its citizens,” he says. “We live in a free society… the government should not be tracking its own citizens.”
A new bill introduced by VA Del. Ken Plum of the 36th District would repeal mandatory jail sentences for second and subsequent misdemeanor larceny convictions.
Under current Virginia law, anyone who is convicted of a second misdemeanor larceny conviction is subjected to a mandatory jail sentence of at least 30 days (but not more than 12 months). A third misdemeanor larceny conviction is a Class 6 felony, punishable with at least a year in jail.
Misdemeanor, or petit larceny, is defined as theft of items under $1,000. The law was first passed more than 50 years ago. The bill passed the Virginia House of Delegates by a 52 to 45 vote with three delegates not voting.
If approved, Plum’s bill would change the mandatory jail sentences. Plum is a Democrat and a long-time delegate for a district that covers a large portion of Reston. He has a weekly opinion column on Reston Now where he discussed this very topic.
The bill would not repeal all punishments for petit larceny, simply not make a jail sentence mandatory on second and subsequent convictions.
Plum says he believes the current law works against people of color.
“What we’ve come to recognize is that laws are not just in Virginia. They’re not always appropriate to the severity of a crime versus punishment,” he says. “It works to the disadvantage of those people of color… or those disadvantaged by income or social status.”
He cites statistics and explanations from Justice Forward Virginia, a political action committee advocating for criminal justice reform in Virginia, to justify why he’s introduced this bill.
“Incarcerating someone for 5 years for stealing something worth less than $,1000 is facially unreasonable,” reads their website. “Whatever value we may place on the security of someone’s property, imprisoning someone for five years for shoplifting doesn’t make sense.”
Justice Forward Virginia also notes that this law disproportionately impacts those most vulnerable. This could mean those who suffer from mental illness, substance use disorders, or are homeless.
Plum agrees with this assessment.
“There are a lot of people who steal things because they don’t have enough to eat. They don’t have the kind of family support that they need and their last is related to survival,” he says.
He says severe penalties like those in current Virginia law are simply piling on folks that can least afford it.
The repealing of the law could also save the Commonwealth money.
According to HB 2290’s fiscal impact statement, approximately 1,000 cases were impacted by this law in the fiscal years of 2019 and 2020. Of those, 792 were sentenced to a jail term.
Prisoners cost money but Plum says that was not a major factor in the bill’s consideration.
“We save a few bucks, but mainly what we do is we save lives of people who get caught up in the criminal justice system,” he says.
One of those voting against the bill is Delegate Mark Cole of the 88th District, which covers parts of Fauquier, Spotsylvania, and Strafford Counties.
In an email to Reston Now, Cole said he voted against the bill because it lessens the punishment for repeat offenders.
“If you are going to give someone a break, it should be a first offender that may be unlikely to re-offend, not a repeat offender,” he wrote.
The bill has been referred to the Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee.
Photo via David Clarke/Unsplash
Great Falls Resident Arrested and Charged with Child Pornography Incidents — Stefan Julian Koza, 33, was arrested by the Herndon Police Department on five felony counts of possession of child pornography and five felony counts of distribution of child pornography. The arrest was made on Dec. 2. [HPD]
Reston Company Merges with Fairfax-based Company — Reston-based Octo Consulting Group, Inc. has announced a deal to combine with Fairfax-based Sevatec Inc. [Washington Business Journal]
Metro Monitors Service Impact of Weather Storm — “Metro is closely monitoring a winter storm that may impact travel conditions Wednesday. Based on the current forecast, Metrobus customers may experience delays or detours as outlined in Metro’s ‘light snow plan.'”[Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
For more than 14 years, the Fairfax County Police Department has offered information about calls for service using a web-based mapping system.
The latest platform — which recently took on a new name after the merger of CrimeReports.com with Motorola — is called CityProtect.
Although the platform now has a different name following the merger, FCPD Sgt. Tara Gerhard told Reston Now that the features are the same. The department’s internal reporting system connects with the website to automatically public an interactive map.
The service is free and users can sign up to receive alerts. Users can also filter the data based on the type of incident and the date.
“CityProtect provides a convenient, web-based platform which allows us to continue to be transparent with our community by sharing local police-related information,” Gerhard said.
Incidents like domestic violence, traffic-related incidents, and homicides are not captured by the platform.
FCPD also recently launched a new data dashboard, which provides public information about arrests, citations, warnings and department training procedures and other policies.
Image via CityProtect
The Herndon Police Department plans to join a regional team that will investigate officer-involved investigations, a move that the department hopes will create an expert-led, independent and objective process for investigations.
For over a year, police chiefs from Northern Virginia worked to create a Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) to investigate officer-involved critical incidents like police shootings, use-of-force incidents that result in death or life-threatening injuries, police officer suicides, and in-custody deaths.
At a Herndon Town Council meeting on Dec. 1, Police Chief Maggie DeBoard said the team would boost public confidence in the investigation process, rule out potential conflicts of interest, and create a process for objective investigations.
“It’s a way for us to make sure these are done independently without bias, which really has been one of the outcries of police reform across the country,” DeBoard said.
Currently, HPD works with the Fairfax County Police Department to address similar issues. Absent a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), DeBoard said the process is challenged by FCPD’s limited availability if multiple incidents require a prompt investigation.
DeBoard also noted that HPD can develop the expertise of its staff by taking part in investigations of other jurisdictions.
Alexandria recently pulled out of the proposed team because of delays in bringing the project forward to its City Council. But 11 other jurisdictions have committed to take part in the task force:
- Arlington County
- Falls Church
- Manassas Park
- Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority Police Department
- Prince William County
Members of the Herndon Town Council agreed with the need for the program at the meeting.
According to a Dec. 1 staff report, taking part in CIRT will not result in additional expenses, other than overtime expenses that are already allocated in HPD’s current budget.
CIRT will not investigate car crashes that result in death, unless the car itself was used as deadly force. Completed case investigations will go before the Commonwealth’s Attorney, who will decide whether to prosecute any individuals.
Neighborhood safety dominated a virtual town hall by Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn last night.
The town hall was called to discuss the ways in which the Fairfax County Police Department is acting to keep the Hunters Woods neighborhood safe in the wake of an active homicide investigation, as well as a growing concern from the community regarding the increase in gunshot reports around Reston and the Hunters Woods neighborhood.
FCPD Capt. Thea Pirnat discussed that while there is an increased number of gunshot reports in the area, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are increased gunshots — it could mean that the community is doing a better job reporting data. However, the Reston District Police Department is still working to increase police visibility in the neighborhood to deter crime.
The department is also increasing patrols in the neighborhood through a crime suppression team, according to Lt. Marc Mitchell. The department has also been sending out bike patrols as an increased presence to help build trust and rapport with the community members.
2nd Lt. Erin Weeks discussed the current status of the homicide investigation, urging the community to come forward with tips or reports to help guide the active investigation. Weeks said that the detectives are actively following up on ledes and that she is “confident that we are going to solve this case.”
Jose Lorenzo Guillen Mejia, 24, of Reston, was found dead near a walking trail in the summer of 2019 near a wooded area between Hunters Woods Plaza and Breton Court. Mejia was found with trauma to his upper body and was pronounced dead at the scene.
PFC Katy Defoe, the Crime Prevention Officer at the Reston District Station, encouraged community members to pay more attention to their surroundings as they go about their daily lives so they can act as good witnesses if necessary.
Defoe also presented a series of contacts organized with the Hunters Woods Neighborhood Coalition that community members can keep in mind in emergent or non-emergent situations, including:
- Police non-emergency line: 703-691-2131
- Embry Rucker Center Outreach Worker for unsheltered medical attention: 571-323-1399
- Mental health crisis assistance: 703-573-5679
- Fairfax Detoxification Center: 703-502-7000
PFC Brandi Horita, Reston District Station’s Community Liason Officer, also discussed cityprotect.com and the Fairfax County Crime Solvers program as two resources for community members to watch police activity and to promote awareness and crime prevention strategies.
Another virtual town hall will be taking place on Feb. 4 at 5 p.m. with more details to come.
Screenshot from the Hunters Woods Town Hall/YouTube
Amidst national calls for transparency and accountability in policing, the Fairfax County Police Department is launching a new interactive data dashboard.
The tool, which is based on Geographic Information System mapping, houses data including arrests, citations, warnings and police department training and policies. FCPD will debut the new platform at a series of virtual town halls beginning on Nov. 18.
“We look forward to implementing this additional layer of accountability and leveraging data analytics to continue to strengthen trust and confidence in your police department,” FCPD wrote in a statement.
The department says the tool was designed based on community input.
“Our new GIS-based data dashboards were designed with input from stakeholders and we will continue to. Have healthy discussions with each of you concerning police policies and operations in all communities,” wrote FCPD Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. in a letter to the community on Oct. 16.
A renewed focus on FCPD’s operations is expected in early 2021 when a team of researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is expected to complete an academic analysis of FCPD’s data and its relationship to core operations today.
The review was initiated at the direction of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the county’s Independent Police Auditor.
Researchers at UTSA are studying the department’s culture after a study released in 2017 found that roughly 40 percent of all use-of-force incidents involve a Black individual.
Across the country, similar conversations about transparency in policing have resulted in reform and additional policy directives.
Recent arrest data released by the departments shows some evidence of disproportionate policing in the county. The data indicate that Black individuals make up roughly 39 percent of all arrests last year. Black residents account for 9.7 percent of the total population.
FCPD officers arrested 34,330 people in 2019, 57 percent of which were white. White residents make up roughly 61 percent of the total population.
In 2017, a study found that roughly 40 percent of all use-of-force incidents involve a Black individual.
Roessler Jr. says his department is grateful for “the additional layer of accountability” provided by the data sets and the ongoing academic review.
“Together, we shall continue to leverage data analytics to build trust,” he said.
FCPD plans to host virtual town halls with district station commanders to discuss training and policies related to the data sets. The complete schedule, including links to the meetings, is below:
- Fair Oaks District – Nov. 18 https://bit.ly/3eJt3Uo
- West Springfield District – Nov. 24 https://bit.ly/3khd01i
- Sully District – Dec. 9 https://bit.ly/2JYG8y9
- Mount Vernon District – Dec. 16 https://bit.ly/3peB8Wb
- McLean District – Jan. 6 https://bit.ly/3kk4ZZz
- Mason District – Jan. 20 https://bit.ly/32tXLfi
- Reston District – Feb. 4 https://bit.ly/38vYDUG
- Franconia District – Feb. 17 https://bit.ly/3ncEVBy
All meetings will be recorded and released the public at a later date.
Image via FCPD, Fairfax County Government
A Reston man has been charged in connection with a double homicide that took place at a party in Dale City on Sunday, according to the Prince William County Police Department.
The U.S. Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force took Karriem Angelo Jackson, 26, into custody on Thursday after he was identified as a suspect.
Police believe the Reston man fire multiple rounds at a large house party on the 3300 Block of Bristol Court in Dale City around 2 a.m. on Nov. 1. The incident occurred after a fight at the home, according to the police department.
Two men — Christopher Alan Johnson, 24, of Alexandria, and Frank Chineji Sapele, 25, of Arlington — were killed. One woman and one man were injured in the incident are expected to recover from their injuries.
Jackson was found in Reston and charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of aggravated malicious wounding, and for counts of use of a firearm. In commission of a felony.
A Reston man pleaded guilty today (Wednesday) to selling fentanyl to someone in Northern Virginia who later overdosed and died.
Peter Andrew Romm, 35, sold customers heroin and fentanyl that he bought from Baltimore, according to court documents. regularly traveled to Baltimore to buy heroin and fentanyl that he then sold to customers in Northern Virginia.
Authorities believe Rom sold the drug in plastic capsules and folded in slips of paper. A man who purchased drugs from him in 2019 was later found dead in his apartment. An autopsy determine the man died of a fatal drug overdose.
He was arrested on Feb. 11 this year as he made his way back from Baltimore with 75 fentanyl capsules. He was arrested again eight days later on the way back from Baltimore with an additional 72 capsules, according to court documents.
Romm pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and 400 grams or more of fentanyl; and one count of distribution of fentanyl. He admitted that the fentanyl he distributed caused the man’s death as part of his plea agreement. .
He faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.
Two men from China, including one from Herndon, have pleaded guilty to involvement in a $1.1 million fraud scheme involving gift cards.
One of the men, Shoming Sun, a 41-year-old from Herndon, was sentenced to seven months in prison yesterday, according to a statement from the Department of Justice’s Eastern District of Virginia office.
Court documents say the two men were part of a wire fraud conspiracy. Members of the conspiracy contacted victims by telephone or social media and assumed fictitious identities, claiming to be apart of the Internal Revenue Service or an employee of a financial institution.
The release mentioned they also told victims they were entitled to money or were under a form of immediate financial threat, tricking victims into purchasing gift cards and sending them the redemption codes.
The conspirators used the codes from the gift cards to purchase goods totaling approximately $1.15 million, said the release.
The other man involved in the incident, Yuchen Zhang, a 23-year-old from Manassas, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and will know sentencing on Feb. 10, 2021.
Reported crimes in Herndon were at a three year high in 2019, according to a new report from the Herndon Police Department.
In 2019, there were 833 reported crimes in Herndon, an uptick from the 791 crimes reported in 2018.
The crimes with the greatest one-year increase were auto theft, aggravated assault and destruction of property according to the report. In 2019, there were 25 reported auto thefts, more than in the previous two years combined.
Steve Pihonak, a captain with the Herndon Police Department, called auto thefts a “crime of opportunity,” saying there is a growing trend in the town with criminals taking advantage of people who leave their cars idling.
“Auto thefts are often what we call a ‘crime of opportunity,’ and these are not easy for officers to predict or police against,” Pihonak said in a statement. “For example, out of the 25 auto thefts in Herndon in 2019, 11 of them occurred when the cars were left running. Additionally, five more cases occurred when the car was left unlocked with the keys in the car. In one other case, the vehicle was left unlocked.”
To prevent auto thefts and other crimes, Pihonak said people should follow a “9 p.m. routine” where residents should remove valuables from their cars at night. Additionally, residents should close their garage door, lock their front door and leave a light on at night, Pihonak said.
Aggravated assaults increased from three reported cases in 2018 to 29 in 2019. The reported three cases in 2019 are an anomaly according to Lisa Herndon, a spokeswoman for Herndon Police said, who pointed to the fact that there were 21 reported aggravated assaults in the town in 2017.
She said police don’t know what accounted for the low number of reported aggregative assaults in Herndon in 2018.
Destruction of property crimes increased from 77 reported incidents in 2018 to 188 in 2019, which is closer to the 2017 total of 132.
As reported crimes are at a three-year high, arrests are at a three-year low, with just 575 arrests in 2019, compared to 688 in 2018 and 837 in 2017.
In contrast, there were fewer reported incidents of assaults 165 reported cases in 2019 compared to 190 in 2018, drug and narcotic crimes with 93 incidents in 2019 compared to 118 in 2018.
But whether it’s an uptick or drop in reported crimes, it is not a reflection of a trend, Herndon said.
“There’s naturally going to be an up and down,” Herndon said of reported crimes in the town. “To speak specifically to a one year change isn’t really getting the whole picture.”
Photo via HPD
Local police are investigating a possible reckless discharge or destruction of property incident in Reston.
Police found several bullet holes on the outside of a home on the 1700 block of Torrey Pines Court. The incident happened on August 3, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.
Information about the incident was released late Friday.
No injuries were reported. An investigation is underway.
Herndon Man Arrested for Abduction, Sexual Assault — Joseph Dean-Alan Minnig, 34, of Herndon, was arrested for the abduction and sexual assault of a victim he knows, according to the Herndon Police Department. He is being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bond. The incident happened on May 17 on the 400 block of Elden Street. [Herndon Police Department]
Herndon Violinist Plays So Others May Eat – “Susan McIntosh, a violinist with the Pan American Symphony Orchestra, entertains her neighbors and collects food for an area nonprofit.” [Reston Patch]
First Case of Syndrome Linked to COVID-19 Confirmed — “The Fairfax Health District has confirmed a case of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) associated with COVID-19. This is the first case of MIS-C reported in Virginia. The child was hospitalized on May 5 and has since been discharged and is recovering at home. To protect privacy, no other patient information will be disclosed.” [Inside NOVA]
Donations for Cloth Face Coverings Needed — The county’s health department is asking for donations of sewn cloth face coverings. Donations will support nonprofit providers and low-income client households they serve. [Fairfax County Government]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Fairfax County police are investigating a shooting that they say took place in front of a 7-Eleven in Herndon early Thursday (May 7) morning.
After receiving a report for possible gunshots, police said that they found out that a man was being treated for a non-serious gunshot wound at a local hospital.
“Further investigation determined the shooting took place in front of [13190 Parcher Avenue],” police said, adding that the front of the 7-Eleven at that address was damaged.
Police also said that they found several shell casings in the area.
The case is currently an active investigation, according to police. Anyone who has information can contact the police department at 703-246-7800
Parabon NanoLabs Inc., a Reston-based company that’s known for cracking cold cases across the country, is coming to a TV near you.
The DNA technology company is featured in “The Genetic Detective,” a new ABC docuries that will premiere on May 19 at 10 p.m. The show takes a deep dive into the company’s genetic genealogy division, which is led by genetic genealogist CeCe Moore.
Here’s more from ABC on the show:
From ABC News comes “THE GENETIC DETECTIVE” debuting TUESDAY, MAY 19 (10:00 – 11:00 p.m. EDT). The all-new series follows investigative genetic genealogist CeCe Moore as she uses her unique research skills to transform the face of crime solving. By working with police departments and crime scene DNA, Moore is able to trace the path of a violent criminal’s family tree to reveal their identity and help bring them to justice. “The Genetic Detective” is a co-production with ABC News and XCON Productions. Carrie Cook and Marc Dorian serve as co-executive producers for ABC News. Christine Connor is executive producer and Christopher K. Dillon is co-executive producer for XCon Productions. CeCe Moore is producer.
Moore, who is known for her genealogy work and the PBS series, “Finding Your Roots,” was hired by Steven and Paula Armentrout, the founders of the company, two years ago.
The series takes a look at Moore’s first case, the 1987 double homicide of a young Canadian couple, and the 1988 murder of an eight-year-old in Indiana. The show will air on Tuesdays from 10 to 11 p.m.