Fairfax County reviewing the way its police use force

FAIRFAX, Va. — Fairfax County may not have much in common with Baltimore or Ferguson, Missouri, but like those communities, their police department is under the microscope for its use of force.

Just last month, the county settled a wrongful death civil lawsuit brought by the family of John Geer, the unarmed man who was shot and killed in the doorway of his Springfield home by a Fairfax police officer in August 2013. The shooting remains under investigation.

A special commission has begun examining the policies and practices of the police department, and the commission’s use-of-force panel conducted its first meeting Wednesday night. The panel will review police shootings from 2005 to 2015, the department’s use of SWAT teams and military-type equipment.

“Really, we’re focused on the future, and a key way to focus on the future is to see what we’ve done in the past,” says Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, chair of the Use of Force Subcommittee.

The Ad Hoc Police Practices Commission also has subcommittees on communications and police recruitment and vetting.

At Wednesday night’s meeting at the Fairfax County Government Center, the use-of-force panel discussed the scope of its review, including Fairfax County police training, threat assessment, and policies and practices governing de-escalation and incident avoidance.

The panel is made up of retired law enforcement officers, a librarian, a retired Navy officer and the father of Salvatore Culosi, a 37-year-old optometrist who was shot and killed by a Fairfax County police officer in January 2006.

Culosi says he wants the panel to sharply focus its review so that it can make recommendations that make a real difference.

“We need a focus for what might need to be fixed,” Culosi told his fellow commissioners.

Other panel members say their aim is ensure that the Fairfax County Police Department has “transparency and accountability.”

“It’s important that the police department is doing the job the public expects,” says commission member Adrian Steel, a former special assistant to then-FBI Director William Webster.

The commission is expected to release its findings by Oct. 1.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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