Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Reflecting on the State of Law Enforcement

By Mary Gavin

Everyone has been riveted in the wake of violence, loss of life and discord around the world. The speed in which information is disseminated and shared via social media makes the world a much smaller place. The pace in which these catastrophes occur gives people feelings of angst, overwhelming fear and hopelessness. The multitude of threats to our communities has increased tenfold over the years and watching the news coverage unfold in “real time” can be searing images for anyone at any age.

As the Public Safety Director of the City of Falls Church, I can assure you that we are astutely aware of and work tirelessly to mitigate the threats posed in this world that can be detrimental to this community. We make every effort to relieve the paralyzing effect of fear so that all can enjoy the inalienable rights of freedom, liberty and democracy. The City of Falls Church Police Department’s primary mission and purpose is the sanctity of life.
I have supreme faith in every officer individually and collectively in the FCPD, yet we are not without error or fault. We strive to change when we err or when there are identifiable gaps in service. I take extreme pride in our officers’ accomplishments and the spirit in which they uphold their oath to protect and serve, uphold the Constitution of the United States, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the ordinances of the City of Falls Church.

Let me also assure you, in this wave of violence associated with as well as toward law enforcement, we as a community, a City government and police department have a responsibility to ensure that it does not happen here. As a community we will not tolerate police misconduct, bias or discrimination against any person, nor will we tolerate violent acts against our police officers. The FCPD works for and in concert with all community members and we would consider this our greatest strength and asset. If there are concerns or complaints of police misconduct the community must act and express these complaints or concerns to the City’s leadership. As the Chief of Police it is my responsibility to ensure that unjust actions taken by the police or against the police are reported, fully investigated and resolved.

The 32 sworn officers and 13 civilian employees that comprise the FCPD are guardians and public servants who seek little recognition yet love their chosen profession. They are highly trained professionals certified by the highest standards in police training at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy. Training in this regional setting is beneficial as it creates unity in purpose and consistency in practices throughout Northern Virginia.

The law enforcement profession is complex and difficult, yet by upholding the tenets of attentive hiring, top-notch training, transparent policy and supervision, we can minimize misconduct or mere disgressions. The cornerstone of these tenets is Accreditation. FCPD is an accredited agency through the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission. This certification is meaningful and gives context to FCPD’s level of competence and compliance in policies, processes and best practices. At a national level, the FCPD has readily embodied the six pillars of reform and principle tenets of The Presidential Taskforce on 21st Century Policing Report, published May 2015.

The FCPD, like most police departments, is the public face of government in crisis. However, we do not go at this alone; our city’s public safety service depends greatly on partnerships. This city’s partnerships include all departmental agencies, schools, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and the Arlington Fire Department. Because we are a small jurisdiction in the hub of our nation’s capital, we are subject to the same high level threats posed in the NCR.

We must be savvy with our limited resources. The FCPD has influence regionally, nationally and internationally to keep pace with the complex needs of public safety service. The City’s Fire Marshal/Emergency Manager is a sitting member on the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Arson Committee. In addition, I represent small jurisdictions on the IACP’s Executive Committee. These assignments, esteemed and crucial, enable Falls Church an opportunity to be privy to national best practices in public safety service. These assignments also allow us to demonstrate with great pride examples of what is best about our service in our community.

All of the certifications, positions, best practices, community groups, are meaningful; they give us credibility in many ways but it is in the day to day calls for service and one-on-one human interaction that defines the FCPD best. FCPD is a mere reflection of our community, it is small embodiment of diverse individuals who serve with compassion, demonstrate measured restraint and have a resilient spirit to protect and serve under any circumstance, in calm or calamity.

 


Mary Gavin in the chief of the City of Falls Church Police Department.

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