Report gives Fairfax Co. police good grade in making reforms

A Fairfax County police car is seen. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
WASHINGTON — Five years after a deeply controversial shooting, police in Fairfax County, Virginia, are making good progress in their reform efforts, according to a report released this week.

The report, written by members of a commission that recommended more than 200 changes for the county police in October 2015, praised the department for implementing nearly 90 percent of those changes.

“There’s been an admirable level of effort put forward by both the board of supervisors and the police department,” said Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, a commission member. “This is a ‘B plus’ or an ‘A minus.'”

The Fairfax County Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission was established following the 2013 shooting of Springfield resident John Geer by a county police officer.

Geer was unarmed when he was shot and killed during a domestic dispute at his home.

Former officer Adam Torres, who shot Geer, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to one year in jail.

“Police departments are not known for embracing change, but we’ve seen Fairfax County and its police department achieve substantial and meaningful reform,” said Niedzielski-Eichner.

According to commission members, over the past three years, Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler and his department have made changes that will help increase accountability and reduce use of force injuries and deaths.

Of the commission’s 202 recommended actions, 179 were approved and 18 were not implemented.

There are five recommendations still under review.

“While not endorsing all the changes advocated by the commission, Fairfax County embraced both the spirit and intent of the commission’s recommendations,” the report stated.

Among the adopted recommendations was an initiative called “Diversion First,” which offers alternatives to jail for people with mental illness.

The department also developed a body camera program, changed its use of force policy to stress “de-escalation,” established an independent police auditor to review investigations involving deaths or serious injuries and put a civilian panel in place to review investigations of complaints regarding police misconduct.

Although largely complimentary, the report criticized the department in areas of “transparency and information sharing,” saying it has a long way to go to regain the public’s trust.

“While FCPD has valid reasons for withholding information that might undermine an active investigation or for public safety reasons, it also has an obligation in a free society to be predisposed toward releasing information,” the report stated.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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