Reston, VA

Amid a year where national policing reforms were brought into the spotlight, Fairfax County is reviewing a suite of changes at a local level to improve police accountability.

At a Public Safety Committee Meeting, Chairman Rodney Lusk presented an overview of proposed changes in what was described as possible changes rather than new policies set into stone.

Near term considerations included improved data collection to improve accuracy, with ethnicity and a breakdown of arrest data included in documentation. Data would be released quarterly.

One of the other practices that’s come under fire nationally is the firing and immediate re-hiring of police officers across jurisdictions. One proposed change would crack down on that as part of a statewide push to make decertification easier.

“Consider and discuss implementation of state legislation related to the decertification of law enforcement officers who have been terminated or resigned for misconduct and the request and disclosure of information for prospective law-enforcement hires,” the input matrix said.

While many of the items items being considered focused on more transparency and restrictions on police, another item being considered was a review of how to boost morale in the police department, which Lusk said was at an all time low.

The committee also considered some mid-term options, like reviewing regulations around school resource officers and a review of Fairfax County Police Department use of force policies. with more data about the racial distribution of arrests, another mid-term goal was reviewing racial disparities in use of force and arrests.

“These are public suggestions… not approved by the board,” said Fairfax County Board chair Jeff McKay. “This is a parking lot of ideas that have come through your office and now must be adjudicated by this board based on data and conversations… Some of these will go off to other committees.”

Image via Fairfax County

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Safety concerns are rising around a police reform bill blocking officers from pulling over drivers without headlights at night, part of an initiative to reform police searches when detecting marijuana in vehicles.

Senate Bill 5029, initially introduced by Senator L. Louise Lucas (D), reads that “no law-enforcement officer may lawfully stop a motor vehicle for operating without a light illuminating a license plate, with defective and unsafe equipment, without brake lights or a high mount stop light,” as well as other vehicle defects. The bill was passed by the House and Senate and is now waiting on Governor Ralph Northam to sign into action. 

However, the Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard has expressed concern over the passing of the bill because it undermines several different safety measures. 

On Oct. 14, DeBoard crafted a letter and uploaded it to Facebook via the Herndon Police Department, addressing Northam on behalf of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police on the areas of the bill they oppose and would like to see changed. 

“Our citizens expect us to protect them. This bill prevents that and will certainly lead to an increase in vehicle and pedestrian fatalities throughout the state,” said DeBoard in her letter. “We strongly encourage you to amend SB 5029 and HB 5058 to remove the amendments that negatively impact the safety of our citizens and visitors.”

According to the police department, Northam has until today to take action on the bill. 

Photo via Herndon Police Department

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Protesters are asking that we say her name, “Breonna Taylor,” as well we should in reminding ourselves and others as to how unfairly laws can be applied. Breonna was a young Black woman in her mid-20’s who worked as an emergency room technician before she was tragically killed by police in a raid on her apartment for reasons that did not involve her. Louisville, Kentucky police got a “no-knock search warrant” to enter her apartment for they suspected that her boyfriend who was in the apartment with her was dealing in drugs. The no-knock warrant was justified by the police as necessary to keep the suspected dealer from having time to destroy evidence. That’s the police view of events.

From inside the apartment in the dark after midnight on March 13 this year there was the sound of the front door being knocked down, and three plain-clothed men entered the apartment. The boyfriend responded by firing a shot that he maintains was in self-defense and that hit one of the policemen in the leg. Under the legal concept of “castle doctrine” in common law and many state statutes a person can use deadly force to protect oneself from an intruder in their home who could cause bodily injury or death.

The boyfriend said he fired that single shot in self-defense. The police responded to his self-defense by firing 32 times into the apartment in self-defense against his self-defense. The boyfriend was not hit, but Breonna Taylor who was an innocent unarmed bystander was killed by the six shots that hit her. No one has been charged with her murder! Any wonder why criminal justice reform advocates have taken to the streets once again?

Clearly the job of maintaining safe communities is a challenging one, but since when is intercepting an alleged drug dealer more important than the life of such an innocent and promising young woman? Since when do we prioritize the arrest of a possible drug dealer over the sanctity of someone’s home with an unannounced, middle of the night raid when the home that is raided is not even that of the person who is the subject of that raid?

I am pleased that the Special Session of the General Assembly now convened is taking on the difficult issues related to public safety and criminal justice reform and the racism that too often has driven policy in the past. While many of these tough issues are still being debated between the House and Senate, I am confident that we will get rid of no-knock warrants in the state, that we will expand police training and civilian oversight of police activity, and that we will reduce the classroom to corrections situations that have caught too many young people of color. We will maintain law and order in our communities without locking up persons of color for minor offenses for unjustified lengths of time.

We need to say the name of Breonna Taylor to remember her murder, but hopefully in the future her death will represent the beginning of real criminal justice reform.

File photo

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Several local faith-based groups are partnering to take part in a car rally for racial justice.

Congregants from area churches will gather on Wednesday, Aug. 26 for the rally, which is intended to raise awareness about “persistent and pervasive racial inequities that have led to violence and discrimination against people of color,” according to event organizers.

Amanda Andere, an event organizer, said all community members are invited to attend the event, which builds on the momentum of national, state and local protests following the death of George Floyd.

As a church we have been in reflection to our response to the continued racial justice awakening since May and have been asked by local faith leaders to do something as one of the original Black churches in Reston. We feel the call for racial justice needs continued attention,” Andere said.

So far, the following congregations are set to take part in the rally:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Christian Church
  • St. Thomas a’ Becket Catholic Church
  • Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation
  • Reston Unitarian Universalists Congregation
  • Washington Plaza Baptist Church 
  • Rev. Jerome 

The event takes place from 6-7 p.m. in the parking lot of the St. Thomas à Becket Church (1421 Wiehle Avenue).

As a church we have been in reflection to our response to the continued racial justice awakening since May and have been asked by local faith leaders to do something as one of the original Black churches in Reston. We feel the call for racial justice needs continued attention.”

Photo via of Herndon Car Rally via Deborah Smith Reilly/Facebook

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Communications experts advise that a message needs to short and punchy to convey its intended meaning in a short period of time. Short and sweet can lead however to confusion, mixed meaning and unintended consequences.

Virginians have realized the fallout from simple, bumper-strip-sized messages in the past. “End parole” as a campaign slogan helped former Governor George Allen overcome a 20-point polling difference to be elected governor. For some people the slogan meant less crime and safer streets, but it also filled Virginia’s prisons to over-flowing shifting huge sums of money from other programs to the Department of Corrections. More people were incarcerated and for longer lengths of time, but the crime rate stayed essentially the same. The campaign slogan “End the Car Tax” got Jim Gilmore elected governor, but the resulting policy costs Virginia schools nearly a billion dollars every year even until today.

I am not particularly good at campaign slogans, but I am fearful that the current “Defund the Police” slogan in response to the real problems in policing throughout the country may inhibit progress towards reform. The number of people who want to literally take all funding from the police is small, but the use of a simplistic phrase to describe the reform movement may turn off many moderates and completely scare away conservatives. There has to be a better way to describe the desired outcomes that reflects the complexities of the problem.

Policing desperately needs reform at all levels of government. The misuse of police power and tactics by the federal government in Portland is frightening, and the Congress must take steps to reign in the administration politicizing the use of police powers. At the state level Virginia needs to increase–not defund–its funding of state police to ensure that its pay structure will attract the best trained and most professional persons to its ranks. It needs to be able to fill its open slots to reduce overtime and stress on its current force.

At the same time the Virginia General Assembly needs in its special session this month to enact the reforms proposed by the Legislative Black Caucus including eliminating the use of choke holds, using body cameras, and enhancing training.

The same reforms need to be applied to police at the county, city and town levels including sheriff departments in Virginia. The responsibilities that have befallen the police in the area of mental health need to be assumed more by personnel in the departments responsible for and skilled in this area of concern.

The public demands and legislators will ensure that the public is safe. At the same time we must demand and put into existence a system free of discrimination and inappropriate use of force. That means we need to redefine our expectations of policing and reimagine the role of public safety officers in our society. We must be willing to spend dollars appropriately to accomplish those objectives. It is over-simplifying a complex issue to suggest that we can “defund the police.”

File photo

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Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk has released a new website that serves as a one-stop-shop for all previous and future law enforcement data public by Fairfax County.

Lusk, who is also the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisor’s Public Safety Committee, said the project was launched in response to residents’ requests for clear and detailed data from the Fairfax County Police Department.

The website aggregates all public safety data into one location, including FCPD’s annual report, reports by the police auditor, arrest and traffic citation dates for 2019, and other resources.

“This is about accountability and transparency,” Lusk said in a video announcing the website.

The platform also includes a police reform matrix that tracks the progress of suggested reforms. This year, the board’s Public Safety Committee began pooling together a matrix of reforms. The status of each reform will be updated on the online document as information is available.

Lusk noted that the website will change in response to input and feedback from the community.

Photo via YouTube

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Fairfax County police say a 64-year-old man died in a crash involving two vehicles in Great Falls yesterday.

The crash happened shortly before 5 p.m. in the 700 block of Walker Road — near the Great Falls Elementary School and Arnon Cemetery.

“A preliminary investigation determined the Ford F350 was traveling eastbound on Walker Road when it crossed over the double yellow, left the roadway and struck the Dodge Ram that tried to avoid the crash,” police said. “Subsequently, the Ford F350 struck a utility pole and overturned back onto the roadway.”

Police said today that Billy White, the driver of the Ford, died at the scene. The driver of the Dodge Ram was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

Detectives are investigating the crash. They do not believe alcohol was a factor, but are looking into whether speed or a medical emergency contributed to the crash, police said.

Anyone with information about the crash can contact the Crash Reconstruction Unit at 703-280-0543.

Image via Google Maps

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Fairfax NAACP Asks Governor to Stop Funding School Police  Fairfax County NAACP and State Del. Kaye Kory (D) sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam Tuesday asking him to reallocate state funding away from supporting police officers in schools and putting it toward more school counselors. Kory, who represents the 38th District in Fairfax County, and Sean Perryman, president of Fairfax County NAACP, signed a letter along with over a dozen other organizations asking Northam to defund the School Resource Officer program in the upcoming special session.” [Reston Patch]

Woman Shot Multiple Times with BB Gun — Town of Herndon police say that a female victim was shot multiple times on July 5 with what appeared to be a BB gun. The suspect is known to the victim, who was taken to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries. [Herndon Police Department]

Reston Hospital Receive Patient Safety Award — “Reston Hospital Center is a recipient of the Healthgrades 2020 Patient Safety Excellence Award™. This distinction places Reston Hospital Center among the top 5 percent of all short-term acute care hospitals reporting patient safety data as evaluated by Healthgrades, the leading resource that connects consumers, physicians and health systems.” [The Connection]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Last night’s town hall with Fairfax County’s police chief covered a variety of issues related to police reform, from progress on the demands made by Fairfax County NAACP to body-worn cameras.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn hosted the meeting last night to give locals a chance to provide input and ask questions. The conflict-free town hall mainly focused on Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. answering questions from audience members and explaining FCPD’s policies in detail.

Roessler highlighted the reforms made by FCPD since the shooting of John Geer, an unarmed Springfield man, in 2013. They have shifted towards a “co-production” method of policing, which emphasizes the importance of community engagement by bringing in advocates to review issues and discuss police report narratives.

A big goal of the police department is to increase diversion of tasks, including sending mental health or substance abuse cases away from the police. Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who is the chair of the county’s Public Safety Committee, also emphasized that the current range of issues diverted to the police is “too much to ask of them” and is in support of the Diversion First model.

The chief addressed terminology that the public wanted to be defined, including the FCPD’s definition of the use of force as “anything beyond a guide or escort, or above putting handcuffs on.” Roessler said that anything beyond that is subject to investigation. Additionally, he clarified that chokeholds are prohibited in Fairfax County.

Roessler also touched on the development of body-worn cameras. He said that the idea has been in the works since June 2015, and he wants to adopt the co-production model of community engagement in this development.

He says they are making “great progress” on this project and that the policies regarding the cameras are addressed online in an American University pilot program testing the same model of body camera policies. They plan to evaluate the body cameras again in-person in September to ensure the policies are exceeding community expectations.

Roessler discussed the evaluation and promotion process of officers, saying that evaluation begins upon application. He described a thorough path of training that officers go through before assignments. Additionally, they value community engagement when evaluating candidates for senior staff positions to ensure officers “embody the spirit of what the community needs for the future.”

“We want our officers to engage with the community members in a positive fashion, not just calls for service,” Roessler said in describing what they look for upon officer evaluation.

Other issues covered included the presence of the MS-13 gang, to which Roessler said they “will be relentless on gang activity in Fairfax County.”

When asked how the police department addresses domestic and sexual violence, Roessler said they use the Lethality Assessment Program — Maryland Model to assess the situation and connect victims with immediate help, such as counselors, attorneys or volunteers from the community.

Photo via Youtube Live

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Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is inviting locals to join his upcoming virtual event with Fairfax County’s police chief.

Alcorn plans to host the virtual town hall with Chief of Police Edwin Roessler Jr. from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1.

Hunter Mill District residents can join in the discussion on the police department and the community by asking questions or providing input on policing topics, according to an email from Alcorn’s office. People who cannot attend the event live can email questions to the Hunter Mill District Office.

Participants will have a number of ways of joining the town hall, which will be hosted on Webex.

People can either register to attend via Webex, watch on YouTube Live or listen in by calling 1-408-418-9388 and using the access code 129 359 7948.

Once the event ends, the YouTube video will be available on the Hunter Mill District website sometime on Thursday evening, according to the email.

Alcorn photo via Supervisor Walter Alcorn/Facebook, Roessler photo via Fair

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At last night’s town hall meeting by the Fairfax County NAACP, the organization’s president Sean Perryman met with local elected officials and community leaders to discuss the future of policing.

Since the killing of George Floyd in police custody and outrage over racial inequities in the U.S., the NAACP compiled a list of policy changes for how to address how police use force and report actions to the public.

Top demands for reform include:

  • removing police from schools
  • reporting data efficiently
  • implementing body-worn cameras
  • reporting officer misconduct
  • reviewing the use of force policy
  • demilitarizing the police force
  • mandating counseling/early intervention

Perryman said that the Fairfax County Police Department needs to see policy and budget overhauls to end systemic racism and better serve the community. Perryman said that nearly half the police use of force in the area is used against Black individuals even though they make up 10% of the population.

At the meeting, the attendees, which included Supervisors Dalia Pakchik, John Foust, Walter Alcorn and Chairman Jeff McKay, all agreed that changes are needed to improve the safety and security of every Fairfax County resident.

Fairfax County Police Chief  Edwin Roessler Jr. expressed a willingness to work with the NAACP on the proposed changes.

“I don’t think I oppose in whole any one of these items,” Roessler said, but added that there might be stipulations on certain topics.

A point of confusion at the meeting was about the transparency of data. Though everyone agreed that data is important to tracking issues and upcoming solutions, no one was on the same page when it came to the type of data and release date.

The FCPD police chief said that recent data on use of force data and school arrests should be released to McKay later this week, but the department is transitioning to a new data management system to achieve the goal.

“We have a lot of promises for data and more transparency but we aren’t actually getting the data,” Perryman said, adding that this data needs to be not only released to the county board, but also to the public.

“This would give the community some insight into what is happening,” Perryman said, adding that this data needs to include other information such as traffic stops and the races of officers and civilians involved.

The conversation on body-worn cameras for officers revolved around best practices and use.

Perryman suggested that officers shouldn’t be allowed to choose when to use them, calling it “an essential part of transparency,” he said.

“It is a waste of equipment, essentially a lens with a price tag, if there is no policy in place that prevents officers from turning this off or selectively turning it on,” he added.

When it comes to budget and funding, Perryman doesn’t believe the department should receive extra money from the state or the county for this project, suggesting that the cost should come from internal budget shifts.

“What we’ve seen in the past when there is a problem with the police, we give them more money to get more toys and we think that needs to stop,” Perryman said. “I don’t think there is an appetite for it here in the country or anywhere else actually.”

The town hall also addressed concerns with civilian review panels.

Tn the past, the panels have struggled to “have teeth,” according to Roessler, who added that the General Assembly would need to correct that.

Though there are challenges, Perryman said that people need to stop pointing fingers and create a substantial plan. He wants the panel to be independent and have the power to investigative incidents independently.

“This has to be a group that can stand up and can make clear recommendations to us,” McKay agreed. “I’ll be happy to work with you on the roster.”

Later in the meeting, Alcorn spoke up and talked about limiting the presence of firearms in the community.

“I’m not sure sending out folks with firearms is the best approach in 2020,” Alcorn said, adding that when someone calls 911, depending on the situation, there are better ways to address a community need.

Supervisors Palchik and Foust offered their support to continue the conversation with both FCPD and Fairfax County NAACP about new policies and best practices.

“We are not immune from making the types of reforms that are necessary to build the kind of confidence that everyone should have in our law enforcement agencies,” McKay said. “The most important thing for elected officials to do right now is to listen.”

Photo via Facebook Live

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The Herndon Police Department’s cruisers are getting a new look.

All of HPD’s vehicles will have a more updated and modern design as part of the project, which is currently in its initial stages. The department’s logo remains unchanged in order to remain consistent with the town’s logo.

“We increased the size of the writing on the side of the vehicle and used a highly-reflective material that will make our cruisers more visible, both during the day and at night,” said Lisa Herndon, a public information specialist for HPD said.

The initiative was funded through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Service’s forfeited asset sharing program.

The final cost of the project will not be known until the project is complete, Herndon said. 

Photo via Herndon Police Department

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A location tracking app helped local police find a car that was stolen in the Town of Herndon.

Police arrested Anthony Ellison, 34, of Burke, in connection with the robbery on April 17.

The Fairfax County Police Department made the arrest after the owner of the stolen 2020 Jeep Wrangler used a tracking app to locate the vehicle and the suspect.

The car was stolen earlier in the day from the Town of Herndon.

Burke was charged with grand larceny and was held without bond.

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Local police are bracing for an increase in the number of domestic violence cases with a stay-at-home order in effect in Virginia.

The Fairfax County Police Department has seen an “incremental uptick” in domestic violence calls in the county.

“While not an alarming uptick, we’re seeing slightly more than what we experienced prior to three weeks,” Sgt. Greg Bedor told Reston Now.

In the last three weeks, FCPD has received a weekly average of 235 domestic-related calls, data show. Most incidents are reported over the weekend on a weekly basis.

The police department is attempting to triage calls by separating people from their homes and conducting interviews over the phone wherever possible, according to FCPD.

Officers are also making an effort to encourage individuals to turn themselves in if an arrest is warranted.

Although the county’s Domestic Violence Hotline has not seen any increases in reported incidents, county officials are encouraging people to seek help.

They say rising unemployment and the pressure of bounding bills “during the already stressful coronavirus pandemic could lead to an increase in domestic violence.”

“For victims of domestic violence, being home may not be the safest place, particularly as people are financially and emotionally stressed,” said Toni Zollicoffer, Fairfax County’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Services division director. “Victims and survivors of recent sexual and intimate partner violence face unique challenges during this period of extended social distancing and isolation.

Her office offered the following tips:

Call or Text for Help 24/7

Call Fairfax County’s Domestic and Sexual Violence hotline: 703-360-7273, TTY 711. It’s available for help 24-hours a day, every day.

If it’s not safe to talk, text LOVEIS to 22522 to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You also can online chat with RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

As always, anyone who is in immediate danger should call 9-1-1.

Plan Ahead

There are actions people can take to prepare, including:

  • Be aware of safe rooms with locks and which rooms have doors or windows for quick exit.  Discuss these with children and other family members.
  • Make a list of safe contacts and emergency resources. Some people find it helpful to hide copies of important documents and safe contacts somewhere outside the home, such as buried in a planter or at a safe neighbor’s home.
  • Plan with kids and other family members if you can. Think about their safety options. Think of a place you can go or send other family members in an emergency or long term.
  • Arrange daily check-ins or code words with people you trust.

What You Can Do

“If you are concerned about a friend or family member, it’s more important than ever to check in with them,” said Zollicoffer. “For resources or information on ways to assist those you are concerned about, call the Domestic Violence hotline.”

We can all play a role in preventing domestic violence. Encourage people who are experiencing abuse to make a safety plan, call for help and guidance and let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Let them know you are there to listen, help and support them without judgement.

Photo via Fairfax County Police Department

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The Fairfax County Police Department’s Reston District Station is hosting a community meeting next week.

The station’s neighborhood patrol unit will discuss their mission, training and community engagement efforts on Jan. 28.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the North County Governmental Building (1801 Cameron Glen Drive).

This month’s meeting is coordinating through FCPD’s Citizen Advisory Committee, which aims to create an opportunity for dialogue between residents and local police districts. 

Photo via FCPD

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