Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Public safety — police, fire and rescue, sheriff — is a basic service that local government provides. These first responders operate in an atmosphere of potential danger at every call to 911, and work to make what may be someone’s “worst day” have a positive outcome. That’s the goal, not always achieved but, for the vast majority of calls, peace and safety prevail.

There are thousands of law enforcement agencies in this country. Many are small, serving residents in small towns and cities, with small salaries and basic equipment. Some are much larger, including in the National Capital Region, which has multiple federal law enforcement agencies in addition to local departments. Only 800 agencies nationwide have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), which evaluates departments on compliance with prescribed standards. The rigorous evaluation takes months of examination and review of an agency, from top to bottom, by the independent Commission. Once accredited, an agency must be examined periodically to retain the ranking.

The CALEA rating is a big deal for any law enforcement agency, and in Fairfax County, it reflects a lot of work undertaken by the department and the community during the past several years. In 2015, the Board of Supervisors established the Ad Hoc Police Practices and Review Commission to create a list of recommendations for policies and practices that the department could work to implement. There were 202 recommendations, many of which have been implemented, including changes to use of force, and de-escalation training. The Board also created a Police Civilian Review Panel and established an Independent Police Auditor, who reviews police investigations into allegations of abuse of authority or serious misconduct. The Auditor’s reports and information about the Civilian Review Panel can be accessed on-line at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/policeauditor/.

Each station commander in Fairfax County (there are eight police districts) conducts a monthly Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting. The Mason District Station meeting is on the first Tuesday of each month, beginning at 7 p.m., at the station. During the pandemic, in-person meetings are suspended, but station command staff have conducted occasional virtual meetings, which have been well-attended. Whether in-person or virtual, these meetings allow command staff to highlight recent events and trends in the area, as well as provide a sounding board for citizen questions and concerns.

Mason Station officers also participated in the pilot program for body-worn cameras, and Mason is one of three stations (the other two are Mount Vernon and Reston) that implemented the permanent program. Plans to expand the program, estimated at $8 million, were delayed because of to Covid-19 effects on the FY 2021 budget. However, at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Chairman McKay directed the County Executive to identify options to fund Phase 2 of the program, as well as develop a timeline and implantation plans for all future phases, and report back to the Board by June 30. A member of the Civilian Review Panel told the Board last year that the Panel was examining two citizen complaints, one that had body-worn camera video, and one that didn’t. The real-time video made the Panel’s investigation more succinct and objective, she said, since you could see exactly what was said and done during the call. Body-worn cameras are a great example of investing in public safety, using technology, not force, to further protect the community.

Stay safe, and healthy.