Fairfax County making progress on independent police review boards

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FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA – The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is making progress in creating two independent bodies that would review incidents involving the police department.

At a meeting last week, the Public Safety Committee took up the Office of Independent Police Auditor and a Civilian Review Panel recommendations that came out of the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission report released last year.

If approved, the auditor would review internal affairs investigations into cases involving death or serious injury, while the panel would review civilian complaints of “abuse of authority” or “serious misconduct” by Fairfax County police officers.

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, who chairs the committee, said there is a benefit beyond reviewing individual cases.

“If somebody comes back and says, ‘Hey, in looking at three or four cases, we’ve seen a common theme. We’ve identified a need for training in a certain area. We’ve identified a supervision issue.’ Those can be really important policy observations that we can then pass on to the chief of police and get implemented,” said Cook.

The committee meeting on the recommendations came in the same week that the Fairfax County Police Department released its 2015 “Use of Force” report. There were 539 cases of use of force. 41% of the cases involved African-Americans, but they make up only 8% of the county’s population. Col. Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Fairfax County Police Chief, said on its face, there is disproportionality, but adds in most cases it’s people instigating force against police (of the 539 cases, only one resulted in a reprimand).

“Obviously you want to make sure that there’s no pattern or practice of an ill nature in that and there is no ill practice by the Fairfax County Police Department,” said Roessler. He added he supports the creation of the two independent bodies, as local and national events have rattled the public confidence in law enforcement. “To have oversight provides that higher level of trust and confidence that there’s this independent body.”

Cook said his plan is to have the auditor’s position taken up by the Board of Supervisors in September and the civilian review panel by the end of the year.