Fairfax Co. police disproportionately use force on Black people; Chief, NAACP respond

Black people make up less than 10% of the population in Fairfax County, Virginia, but a new report shows they are involved in almost half of all police use-of-force incidents.

In the Fairfax County Police Department Internal Affairs Bureau’s 2019 Use of Force Report, while only one in 1,000 calls for service resulted in an officer using force, 45% of community members who were subjected to force over the year covered by the report were Black.

The numbers show almost 82% of officers involved in use-of-force cases are white.

“It’s unsurprising that this annual report shows use of force is disproportionately used against Black members of the community, as this trend has persisted in more than five years’ worth of data,” said Sean Perryman, president of the Fairfax County NAACP, in a statement.

“It points to a systemic problem that the county must finally address.”

“Preserving the sanctity of all human life permeates through every interaction we have with our community,” Police Chief Edwin Roessler said in a statement to WTOP.

“While the overwhelming majority of these interactions do not result in use of force, it’s crucial that we document and independently scrutinize every incident to hold ourselves accountable to the communities we serve.”

The statistics provided in the report are based on use-of-force incidents that occurred in 2019 and had been closed as of June 1, 2020.

Data released by the Fairfax County Police Department on officer use of force showed a majority of community members who experienced force were Black, from 2017 to 2019. (Courtesy FCPD)

Perryman intends to press for the county to take more action.

“It’s unconscionable that they allow this to happen without pressing for greater transparency and accountability from FCPD,” he said.

Roessler said the department and county are taking the responsibility of using force in performing their public safety duties seriously.

“We have expanded our definition of force to include nonphysical encounters for increased transparency and we subject ourselves to external investigation and audit by an Independent Police Auditor, and the University of Texas is conducting a methodical review of each use of force encounter to further evaluate any disproportionality,” Roessler said.

The report was issued amid recent protests locally, and nationally, related to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody.

Earlier this month, Roessler told WTOP the county has been proactively ensuring officer accountability, especially in use of force incidents.

On June 6, Fairfax County Officer Tyler Timberlake was arrested and charged with three counts of assault and battery for using a stun gun several times on a disoriented man, who did not appear to pose a threat. Timberlake is white, the man he shocked is Black.

As WTOP first reported, prosecutors and the defense said the officer shocked a man he mistakenly thought he recognized.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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