(Updated 5:00 p.m.) Kevin Davis’s first challenge as Fairfax County’s new police chief is to earn the public’s trust, and if the community input session held last night (Thursday) was any indication, it will be a formidable task.
In a virtual discussion that lasted more than two hours, caller after caller expressed dismay at what they believe was insufficient transparency and community engagement from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during the hiring process, leading many to question that if the county made the right decision in appointing Davis.
“The Board’s closed-door deliberations and no community involvement in the vetting process left us in the dark. This, coupled with press revelations after the selection, rendered the process fatally flawed,” Diane Burkley Alejandro, lead advocate for the immigrant rights organization ACLU Power People Fairfax, said during the session.
Callers also brought up concerns about Davis’ authorization of secret aerial surveillance while he was Baltimore’s police commissioner as well as comments he made in a 2020 Baltimore Sun op-ed about defunding the police.
The Board of Supervisors acknowledged that the community has expressed concerns about Davis’s record in a broad statement earlier this week, but county leaders have not wavered from their position that he was the best choice to lead the Fairfax County Police Department and implement the reforms that the board has been seeking.
“Your hiring of Mr. Davis in today’s environment is just plain tone deaf,” Hunter Mill District resident Diana Smith said yesterday, directing her ire to the board. “…It sends a really negative message. I think this was a really flawed decision based on a really flawed process, which led to a flawed selection of a candidate.”
“I and other community organizations expressed not only the lack of community engagement but the type of community engagement. It’s fine to check a box and say ‘we did a survey, we had community meetings’ but was that enough and were we really heard?” Amanda Andere, a member of the Chairman’s Equity Task Force, said. “We need to start over. We need a process rooted in equity that starts and ends with community input.”
For Davis’s part, he acknowledged the criticisms in his opening remarks and said that he made mistakes over the years but plans to continue to work to gain the community’s trust.
“I have certainly changed, grown, and have learned many lessons throughout the course of my career,” Davis said in response to one caller. “Every year along my journey, I’ve learned more and have become more attuned to community expectations and sensitivities…Was it always a perfect journey? No.”
Throughout the night, Davis reiterated that he was proud of his career, the progress he’s made in terms of building trust with communities of color, and his belief that he has been “one of the most progressive reform leaders in our country.”
“I’ll follow my own mother’s advice…by being the best chief of police I can possibly be,” Davis said. Read More
The Fairfax County chapter of the NAACP is not impressed by the search process and resulting hire of Kevin Davis as the county’s new police chief, effective May 3, and is calling for a do-over.
“The Fairfax County NAACP does not have confidence in the process by which the new Police Chief was hired — or its results — and requests that the County, in collaboration with the community, conduct a transparent search for a new Police Chief together,” President Karen Campblin wrote in a statement released yesterday (April 29).
Campblin called the process “deeply troubling” and expressed disappointment in “the lack of transparency and accountability to the public.”
We are disappointed in how the new police chief was selected, and how the public was excluded from the process. This lack of transparency gives us several concerns about the new chief and the future of the police force. Read more of our statement here: https://t.co/IENAYUyyUl pic.twitter.com/Iv6WBrKw2K
— Fairfax County NAACP (@FairfaxNAACP) April 29, 2021
She notes that the hiring process stands in stark contrast to the county’s last police chief search in 2013, when residents were directly involved in candidate evaluations and interviews.
In 2013, a panel of 20 community members, including police union representatives and faith leaders, considered 40 to 50 candidates and recommended three finalists to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, according to The Washington Post.
Ultimately, Edwin C. Roessler Jr. was selected for the job. His retirement in February prompted the county’s search for a new Fairfax County Police Department leader.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says that the county conducted “an extensive interview and outreach process” when looking for Roessler’s successor that involved over 275 community meetings and calls, over 450 emails to stakeholders, and a community survey that received over 3,000 responses.
“The entire Board was unanimous in their confidence in Kevin Davis’s ability to lead our Department and to further our already ongoing Board of Supervisor’s directed policing reforms,” McKay said in a statement.
However, the results of the survey have not been made public, and Campblin says the county board has provided little justification to the public regarding what distinguished Davis from other candidates.
“At a minimum, the results of a county-wide survey that was supposed to be used to help guide the search and interviews, should have been presented to the Board of Supervisors at a regularly scheduled meeting and made readily available for public review,” she wrote. “The Board also should have provided a better understanding of the reasons it believes Mr. Davis is the best candidate to run the FCPD.”
The civil rights organization also says it is concerned about the NBC4 Washington report on two lawsuits from earlier in Davis’s time as a police officer in Prince George’s County. One of the cases involved an inappropriate use of force and accusations of racist mistreatment, while the other was related to false imprisonment.
The victims won both civil lawsuits.
“These reports raised concerns for the life and safety of our youth, members with disabilities, LGBTQ, and BIPOC communities,” Campblin said.
In his statement, McKay reiterated his support for the new police chief and his belief that Davis will help the county implement “critical reforms” to address systemic inequities in policing, sentiments that he expressed to Reston Now earlier this week.
“Through our interview process, Mr. Davis demonstrated a complete understanding and commitment to improving policing, promoting transparency, and building relationships in the community,” McKay said. “In addition, following conversations with leaders across the region as well as people who have directly worked with him, it is clear that they also have tremendous confidence in his abilities.”
Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who chairs the board’s public safety committee, reaffirmed the county’s decision while expressing some skepticism of the validity of NBC4’s report.
“Based on my conversations with Mr. Davis during the interview process, and since his selection, I am confident that he is the best choice to lead the Fairfax County Police Department,” Lusk said. “I am concerned that recent media reports regarding Mr. Davis’s record may not accurately reflect the events in question.”
Lusk says that he and McKay will host a public forum “in the coming days” where he hopes Davis will address the reported incidents.
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