The Fairfax County Police Department implemented multiple measures following a series of controversial incidents in recent years, but the McLean Citizens Association’s board of directors wants the department to do even more to make officers accountable.
The MCA board on July 1 passed a resolution called on county police to:
• Prioritize funding for accelerated implementation of body-worn cameras by 2021, instead of a year later as currently planned. Video recordings of officers’ actions “is critical to ensuring use of reasonable force, racial justice and accountability,” the resolution read.
• Provide additional and ongoing officer training in regards to “racial neutrality” in policing.
• Identify and take rigorous disciplinary actions against, including removal from duty, officers with histories of complaints against them for using unjustified force or behaving abusively toward African-Americans and other minorities.
• Compile statistics on traffic stops and other police interactions with the public, including the race of the residents involved, and annually make that information public.
The resolution also pressed the General Assembly to increase public access to police officers’ personnel records regarding public complaints and disciplinary actions, if those officers have been charged criminally for using excessive force.
Twelve states allow for public disclosure of such records and 15 more do so under limited circumstances, according to the resolution.
MCA president Robert Jackson, who grew up in St. Paul, Minn., said he was “incredibly upset, freaked out and angry” about the recent killing of an African-American, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer.
MCA has a responsibility to put pressure on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to prevent incidents from occurring here, he said.
County police “need to identify officers who have problems and get rid of them,” Jackson said. “I have no problem taking a stand on this.”
Pressure for police reforms has increased since the August 2013 fatal shooting of Kingstowne resident John Geer. County police subsequently fired the officer involved, Adam Torres, who later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to a year in jail.
Following the Geer shooting, the Board of Supervisors formed a civilian-based commission to evaluate police procedures. County police so far have implemented 179 of the commission’s 202 recommendations.
County officials also have created an Office of the Independent Police Auditor, which reviews the police department’s internal investigations regarding police shootings, in-custody deaths and cases in which members of the public are seriously injured or killed. The county also formed an independent Civilian Review Panel, which reviews police incidents involving use of inappropriate language, harassment, discrimination and reckless endangerment of people in custody.
According to MCA’s resolution, county police reports show that while use-of-force incidents account for only 0.1 percent of officers’ contacts with the public, the number of such instances has risen 35 percent in recent years, from 507 in 2016 to 688 in 2019.
Those use-of-force figures also showed a disparity concerning African-Americans, the resolution read. Police used force against black members of the public in 35 percent of the reported cases in 2016, 40.4 percent in 2017, 44.4 percent in 2018 and 45.8 percent last year.
MCA board member Paul Kohlenberger urged caution when evaluating those statistics, saying there was not enough information to accuse officers of bias.
Community tensions flared in Mount Vernon in early June when a county police officer used a stun gun against an African-American man who appeared disoriented. Prosecutors since have charged the officer, Tyler Timberlake, with three counts of misdemeanor assault and battery. The controversy also has led to dissension within the police ranks against Chief Edwin Roessler Jr.
MCA board members sharply disagreed over whether to leave George Floyd’s name in the resolution. A motion to remove it failed on a 16-16 tie vote, with three abstentions.
The association will send copies of the resolution to the Board of Supervisors, local General Assembly members, county executive, police chief and commonwealth’s attorney. James Beggs, chair of MCA’s Environment, Parks and Recreation Committee, suggested the group also transmit the resolution to local police organizations, which he said can make it more difficult to discipline and terminate problem officers.
“It’s a high-stress position,” he said. “Not all of them are cut out.”
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