Fairfax Board creates civilian police review panel

WASHINGTON — Three years after a Fairfax County police officer shot and killed an unarmed Springfield man during a standoff, residents have a new way to evaluate police conduct in their community.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to establish a police civilian review panel.

The nine-member panel, to be named by the Board of Supervisors, will have the authority to scrutinize internal police department investigations and any serious violations of police procedures. The panel may also investigate police use of abusive language, harassment and discrimination.

“The establishment of a Civilian Review Panel is a positive step forward to further promote transparency and openness in community policing,” said Board Chairman Sharon Bulova, announcing the action.

Just one of the 10 supervisors voted against establishing the panel. Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity charged that police conduct is already subject to multiple levels of review.

“I think it’s being done primarily for political correctness,” Herrity said. “I’d rather have these officers on the street, fighting crime than going through another administrative process,” he said.

The Board created an independent police auditor just three months ago, one of a series of changes the county has enacted in the wake of the fatal shooting of John Geer in 2013.

Geer’s family struggled for two years to learn basic details about his death, which occurred during a standoff with police. Geer was standing in the doorway of his home with his hands up when Officer Adam Torres fired a single shot into Geer’s chest.

The long delay in releasing information, including whether the officer involved might face changes, prompted the family to file a lawsuit, resulted in a federal investigation and even drew intervention from members of Congress. The county didn’t release the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot until a judge ordered details of the investigation be made public.

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