What Fairfax Co. residents are looking for in a new police chief

As Virginia’s Fairfax County continues the search for a new police chief following Edwin Roessler’s retirement in February, local leaders heard from the public Tuesday on what they want to see in their next top cop.

“There’s a lot here to balance. But I’m confident that our board can hire a police chief that reflects our values, innovates and builds on our history of reform, and supports the men and women of our police department,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said during Tuesday’s forum.

“There is no doubt in my mind, that’s a tall task, but our board is ready for it. And we know we will find someone who has those attributes and will continue to move Fairfax County and our public safety police department in particular, forward to the next chapter,” McKay said.

ACLU People Power Fairfax Advocate Diane Alejandro said the “best way to achieve change in the long run is to level with the people who are most affected.”

“We don’t want a chief who gives in to threats of slowdowns or media attacks,” she said, specifically citing an incident involving a Fairfax County police officer who was indicted on three misdemeanor counts of assault and battery after using a stun gun several times on a seemingly noncombative man in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

“That’s totally unnecessary, deadly force. It’s not an easy task, but we need someone who can tackle it.”

She also said the answers candidates give during interviews should be known.

“We do trust your judgment on selection. But to build trust fully, the public needs to hear that the candidate selected is committed to police reform,” Alejandro said.

Steve Lee, president of the Korean American Association of Greater Washington, said he wants to see a chief of police who has served in the department, rather than hiring someone from outside the county.

“I would also like to see someone from the diverse community,” Lee said, adding that he wanted candidates to be asked about their approach to Asian hate crime preventive measures.

Police accountability was another major topic.

“I think that it is important that our new chief must be a leader that can implement reforms and make difficult choices, while keeping morale high,” Laura Martinez said. She’s a Falls Church resident and volunteer ACLU advocate.

“Accountability on our police force is one of the driving issues of the of the discussion on the subject. And transparency on this issue is critical to ensure public trust on our police force, which in turn will enhance the morale of our police officers by knowing that the public has their back, and lack of accountability translates into lack of trust, and lack of trust helps no one.”

Ashley Warmeling, a managing attorney with the Capital Area Immigrants’​ Rights Coalition and a resident, praised the support Fairfax County has shown to immigrants, noting a Jan. 26 decision to prohibit voluntary cooperation by Fairfax agencies with ICE.

“Leadership has has a tremendous impact. Greater transparency leads to greater accountability,” Warmeling said. “And for that reason, we encourage the board to open the interview process in a way similar to what was done back in 2013. During the hiring process, it is imperative the questions are raised about immigration enforcement, racial profiling, community trust and mental health responses. We expect Fairfax County to bring in a chief who shares the county’s values on these important issues.”

Candy Carpenter, a member of the Mason District Community Advisory Committee, criticized Roessler and the state’s attorney general’s office.

“I believe our cadre of officers and leadership have been demotivated and demoralized by the policies, actions and inactions of both the former chief of police and the current Commonwealth attorney’s office,” she said.

Carpenter cited “significant trust issues” with the police department.

“The current reality is, to a significant number of officers and staff, that the former chief favored political positions that negatively impacted the ability of the police to do its job,” she said.

“It may not be immediately popular to defend an officer accused of a crime or to question a new policy that degrades law enforcement. But I believe it is nevertheless a role the new chief must be willing to accept and his or her staff should know beyond any doubt that he or she will assume this role, and the officers will receive the support.”

Carpenter said the county doesn’t need an administrator; it needs a leader.

McKay said the board will hold interviews for the police chief position over the next week.

WTOP’s Matt Small contributed to this report.

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Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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