While stressing they did not expect any civil unrest in the near future, Fairfax County supervisors on Nov. 17 unanimously authorized the county’s police department to apply for, and accept if granted, a federal grant to purchase 370 more non-ballistic riot helmets with riot face shields.
In case that brings to mind the Democratic National Convention in Chicago circa 1968, county officials say no comparison exists.
“These are personal protective devices, not military-grade equipment, that could be deployed in the event of civil unrest, which we’ve been blessed to not have here in Fairfax County,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay (D).
Police now will seek a $114,017 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. The grant program is the main provider of federal criminal-justice funding to states and localities.
If Fairfax County received the grant and purchased the helmets, it approximately would quadruple the amount of such equipment available for county police officers. The Fairfax County Police Department currently has 120 such helmets for its Civil Disturbance Unit, said Maj. Eli Corey, the unit’s commander.
Part of the grant money would be used to replace some of that equipment, but most would be used to purchase additional helmets for patrol officers, officials said.
“If something were to happen spur-of-the-moment, this would give patrol the ability to augment those numbers [of civil-disturbance officers] and protect themselves, if need be,” Corey said.
The helmets, which provide rear-neck protection and have visors, would shield officers from thrown objects and debris and “afford a high degree of impact and concussive protection,” according to a briefing document from county staff.
The equipment would boost the police department’s ability to respond to civil-unrest incidents within the county, as well as around the National Capital Region, based upon mutual-aid agreements.
Supervisor Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) said some of the police department’s civil-disturbance equipment is outdated and will need replacement.
While county has “had some pretty crazy politics recently,” including a fair number of protests, the Board of Supervisors supports the right of people to conduct peaceful demonstrations, Alcorn said. Purchasing the helmets does not indicate a new direction for the county, he said.
“We’re not exactly anticipating a dramatic upsurge in civil unrest, are we?” Alcorn asked Corey. “I don’t think we are.”
The grant-application window opened Oct. 1 last year and will close Sept. 30, 2023. The county government would not have to provide matching funds.
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