Fairfax citizens’ panel agrees with suggestions to reform police use of force policies

A group of volunteers who served on a community panel to analyze how  police use force in Fairfax County, Virginia, said it agrees that changes need to be made in how officers are trained and data is collected by the department.

In looking at a study by the University of Texas at San Antonio on Fairfax County’s use of force between June 2016 and December 2018, Yolonda Earl-Thompson of the Use of Force Advisory Committee told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors that the committee agrees with suggested changes.

“Without cultural change, internally and externally, policy change will not make meaningful and impactful improvements for a safer community and a safer Fairfax,” Earl-Thompson said.

Along with documenting when force is used, the panel said the department should collect data on its de-escalation techniques and educate officers on county history with a focus on generational trauma.

“One of our overarching recommendations is to ensure that the changes are rooted and guided by trauma-informed perspectives that grants a higher value on lived experiences of communities of color, youth, residents with behavioral and substance abuse dependencies, immigrants and undocumented persons,” Earl-Thompson said in her presentation on March 1.

“These are the people most impacted by the use of force and the contact with law enforcement.”

Those residents must be kept top of mind in retraining officers and changing the way the department collects use of force data, the committee found. It also recommended tracking instances where deadly force was authorized to reduce the risk of selection bias.

The study analyzed 1,360 use-of-force cases from January 2016 to December 2018 and found that 42% of cases involved Black individuals, compared to 38% for white people, and Black people were 1.8 times more likely to have a weapon pointed at them by police.

The study was released in June and given to the panel of volunteers to analyze.

Following the committee’s presentation, Police Chief Kevin Davis informed the Board of Supervisors that the department has adopted a new ICAT (integrating communications, assessment and tactics) training guide recommended by the study and will begin to retrain officers next month.

He also told the board that officers will train with non-lethal tools, such as BolaWraps, which can restrain suspects with minimum force.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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