Fairfax Co. police hear from community on proposed changes to pursuit policy

Police in Fairfax County, Virginia, heard from members of the community Thursday about proposed new rules for officers when it comes to deciding if a car should be pursued.

This comes after Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis presented the new policy to the county’s board of supervisors last month. During that presentation, Davis said the change would put the county in line with laws in place in other area police departments.

The new policy would eliminate the ability for officers to chase a vehicle for only a traffic violation. It also eliminated chases in the case of misdemeanors, including those that include a threat of violence. It would also prevent chases pertaining to people wanted for non-violent felonies.

During Thursday’s virtual question and answer session, members of the police department tasked with revising the policy briefed the community about the process of developing the new guidelines. Maj. Bob Blakley said many of the changes were based on the reaction someone would have to a pursuit-related crash that claimed the lives of their loved ones.

“If a police officer knocked on my door and said that my wife and children were killed in a pursuit-related crash, and I said ‘what were you chasing the bad guy for,’ and they said because he was speeding, I would have a hard time swallowing that,” Blakley said.

The policy would also stop the police department in assisting other police departments with pursuits if the chase does not meet the proposed new guidelines.

During the meeting, resident Richard Huska at first raised concern about the fact that suspected drunk drivers would not be chased.

“They have a weapon, it’s a car,” Huska said.

Another resident, Adrian Steel, who is a civilian on an ad hoc committee that examined the existing pursuit policy, countered saying the pursuit could cause a drunk driver to go faster and become more of a problem. Following the example provided, Huska said he agreed with why those intoxicated drivers might not be pursued.

In cases involving a violent felony or a serious crime with the threat or use of violence, the chase can be initiated. Also, a provision that allows the pursuit of motorcycles would remain.

“We believe that we need to chase for a violent offense,” Blakley said.

Nicole Miller said she has been the victim of car thefts and her fear is the policy would lead to a spike in stolen cars because car thieves would know they wouldn’t be chased. She also raised concerns that people who see their car being stolen may choose to take the law into their own hands.

“Are you ready for residents to do the pursuits themselves,” Miller said.

Blakey said carjacking suspects would be pursued under the new policy, but a person who stole a parked car with no one inside would not.

Rick Avila, said he feels the policy should not be modified and that doing so would lead to more crime in the county.

“People that are honest people pull over,” Avila said.

Some asked what police will do to find those who fled. Barkley said they would try to locate the guilty party in other ways.

“We won’t just give up,” Blakley said.

The police department continues to take input on the proposed policy changes from residents, and those comments can be submitted online.

After collecting feedback from the community and county leaders, the department said it hopes to have the new policy in place by July.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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