Fairfax Co. Board begins to mull policing changes after ’13 shooting

FAIRFAX, Va. — More than two years after a Fairfax County police officer shot and killed a Springfield man in the door to his home, the county’s Board of Supervisors has begun to wade through some 200 recommendations to improve the police department’s handling of such cases and to improve its relationship with the community.

But Fairfax county officers are anxious over the suggested changes stemming from the 2013 shooting of John Geer, whose family sued to learn the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot and waited two years to learn whether that officer would face criminal charges. The county’s bungled handling of Geer’s death prompted a U.S. Department of Justice investigation a several county reviews of police policies.

“I think, generally, there is a level of anxiety on the street with officers, you know, what are these policies coming in, how are they being implemented?,” said Det. Sean Corcoran with the Fairfax Coalition of Police Local 5000.

But board members weren’t swayed by such concerns.

“Policing is changing, and it has changed and it will change,” said Board Chair Sharon Bulova. She likened the anxiety over the pending changes to initial resistance to neighborhood watch groups; over time the efforts of those groups were supported.

“It’s not right, it’s not wrong, it’s just different,” said Supervisor Penny Gross.

Deputy County Executive David Rohrer presented a list of 202 options for the board to consider. The options were combined from recommendations on the use of force from the Police Executive Research Forum plus those from a local review commission formed following Geer’s death.

Former county Officer Adam Torres has been charged with murder for Geer’s 2013 slaying. His trial is set to start in April.

Recommended changes include improving communication and more rapid sharing of key evidence in cases where police use force as well as increasing the diversity of the department and changes to vetting officers. Improvements in mental health treatment and changes for use of force policies and oversight are also among the hefty list before the board.

Supervisor John Cook, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said the changes would likely take years to fully implement. The committee plans to take up the recommendations in batches over the next few months.

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, the only minority member of the board, looked around the packed room filled with staff, law enforcement, media, members of the ad hoc commission and a few members of the public and asked her colleagues not to forget those who were not in the room but may have some of the most difficult interactions with police.

“Too often, those communities that are effected by that are not at this table, and I think that’s a very important piece that we recognize that there are not all the players at the table. If I look around the room, this isn’t quite the diversity of this county, yet we know how the challenges go in terms of public safety,” she said.

The committee praised the work of the police department in maintaining Fairfax County’s relatively low crime rate, but also emphasized that some things need to change.

Supervisor Pat Herrity urged the board to keep the recommendations for sweeping changes in communications, use of force and other areas “in context” to avoid pulling resources from other, successful law enforcement efforts.

Police Chief Ed Roessler hopes new training and other changes help, including increased training for officers who confront individuals in the midst of a mental health crisis.

“Clearly, across the nation, the law enforcement profession needs to re-engineer itself,” he said.

Roessler said the department must work with the community to prevent and fight crime, to keep pace with urbanization in the county, and to create a “culture of safety, the preservation of the sanctity of human life, not only police officers, but all that we deal with in the community at all times.”

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up