Fairfax County supervisors on Jan. 26 honored retiring Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. and announced former chief David Rohrer temporarily would lead the department starting Feb. 1.
Roessler, a 32-year department veteran, boldly advanced needed reforms, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D).
“I think we all know how difficult it is to be a police officer these days, and particularly to be a chief,” McKay said. “We see that across the country. But chief, you made us proud every step of the way. You’ve been bold. You’ve brought forward and supported necessary changes to reform our police department.”
Roessler, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, started his county-police career on July 17, 1989, and after working his way up the ranks was appointed chief in July 2013.
As chief, Roessler helped the department attain national accreditation while maintaining its state accreditation as well, the board’s unanimously approved resolution read.
Roessler led the department through an outside review of its use-of-force and community-review policies, helped it begin implementing a body-worn-camera program and established a civilian-review panel and an independent police auditor’s office, the resolution read.
Roessler’s commitment to community engagement, trust and transparency sustained Fairfax County’s status as one of the safest jurisdictions of its size in the United States, according to the resolution.
Roessler also began a Chief’s Council on Diversity Recruitment; oversaw the ground-breaking and opening of the county’s new Public Safety Headquarters in Fairfax; formed “communities of trust”; and supported implementation of the Diversion First program, which offers some low-level offenders alternatives to incarceration, McKay said.
The chief also changed the department’s pursuit policies, implemented cold-case Websites, updated a general order regarding suspects’ immigration status; got certified, along with all his officers, in crisis-intervention training; and improved the agency’s data transparency, he said.
Most important were the chief’s abilities to build trust and transparency in the community, McKay said.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) noted he has a brother who long served as a police officer and chief, so he had an inkling of the challenges Roessler and his family have faced over the years.
“There’s just so much that is not seen by the public,” Foust said, adding, “I’ve always considered you the ultimate professional, showing respect to one and all. You have provided the type of leadership that is hard to get and hard to replace.”
Supervisor Rodney Lusk (D-Lee) complimented Roessler for his handling of protests that occurred following the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.
Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence), who met Roessler when she was serving on the School Board, thanked the chief for challenging himself and county supervisors to improve the police department.
Supervisor Daniel Storck (D-Mount Vernon) thanked Roessler for helping to destigmatize mental-health issues amongst police officers.
“It’s one of those hidden things that we don’t talk enough about and therefore we don’t do enough to let folks know it’s OK to get help when you need it,” Storck said, adding, “You’ve brought our police force [and] our communities to a place that many in the country only now are thinking about.”
Supervisor James Walkinshaw (D-Braddock) said he appreciated Roessler’s commitment on domestic-violence issues and his willingness to make tough moral decisions.
“I think your tenure probably would have been much easier if you had skirted some of those or had done what at the time would have been the more popular or easier decision,” he said. “Because you took a different path and were willing to take the slings and arrows, including several . . . times impugning your motives, I think this community is a better place and the Fairfax County Police Department is a better department.”
Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason), who first met Roessler when he was assistant commander at the Mason District Station, said the chief always had been forward-looking.
Gross recalled Roessler’s playfulness when he once walked around with a python around his neck at an animal-shelter open house and his depth of feeling after authorities found bodies of gang-murder victims had been left at Holmes Run Park.
“I have never seen you so angry,” Gross said of the Roessler’s remarks to the media. “You handled it with such grace, but such anguish . . . about what it meant to the community.”
Roessler expressed gratitude to his family and God and offered prayers for public-safety personnel in the county who had died both in the line of duty and by suicide.
Interim police chief Rohrer is a 32-year veteran of the department, beginning as a patrol officer in 1980 and five years later switching to the agency’s tactical section. He served as police chief from July 2004 to October 2012 before being named deputy county executive for public safety, a post he has held ever since.
Several crises marked Roessler’s tenure as chief. Shortly after he took the helm, a county police officer fatally shot unarmed Kingstowne resident John Geer, resulting in the officer’s firing and manslaughter conviction. The county also created an Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission many of its more than 200 recommendations.
Police organizations last summer called for Roessler’s resignation after he agreed with new county Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano on charging an officer who tasered a man in Mount Vernon.
County officials are conducting a nationwide search for Roessler’s successor. While officials often previously have selected a chief from within the department’s ranks, some police-advocacy groups are urging that an outsider be brought in because of internal divisions in the agency.