WASHINGTON — After several high profile police involved shooting deaths around the nation, the magnifying glass has been taken to policies and practices at police departments locally and around the nation.
In Fairfax County, a review ordered by the county last year is complete and has resulted in 71 recommendations for the Fairfax County Police Department regarding use of force policies.
The report from the Police Executive Research Forum says the department is doing a commendable job in meeting and exceeding national best practices but says several areas could use improvements and updates.
The review called for comprehensive use of force training for officers that focuses on crisis intervention strategies. It also includes officers gaining a better understanding about situations where a person might be looking to commit suicide-by-cop.
In Fairfax County, 40 percent of the police force has received crisis intervention training. A program that helps officers better defuse situations peacefully, especially when they involve a person suffering from a mental illness. The report urges the department to continue towards a goal having 100 percent of the force complete the training.
Also in the area of training, the review found that new recruits currently begin with firearms and emergency vehicle operation training. It recommends the department consider using the first days of classes to instead focus on concepts and values of policing in a democratic society.
This report comes after an incident in 2013, when Fairfax County Police say Officer Adam Torres opened fire on John Geer of Springfield, during a standoff at Geer’s home. Torres said he saw Geer’s hands go toward his waist but other officers on the scene say they didn’t see that.
The review encourages the department to make it a duty of all officers to intervene if it’s believed that an officer is resorting to use of force unnecessarily.
The report also touts the “National Decision Model” currently used by police in the United Kingdom. Researchers believe the model will better help officers analyze situations and offer more solutions before force is used.
Many of the other recommendations deal with terminology changes in existing polices. They also outline a need for more detailed investigations after any incident where deadly force was used. pushing for a policy which requires officers to be clear and concise in reports by avoiding “boilerplate” or uniform language.
It also calls for officers using alternative weapons such as Tasers to be certified to use them. The report stresses that while they are considered by some as “less-lethal” weapons, they can result in death. The department is also advised to consider buying bright colored Tasers, so that police officer clearly know they are reaching for the Taser and not a gun.
These recommendations will be presented to the AD Hoc Police Practices Review Commission on Monday evening in Fairfax. The commission organized by County Chair Sharon Boulava is made up up of both county officials and community members. The commission is also reviewing police department policies and practices and will also present recommendations to the county, later this year.