Over the past 15 months, officers in the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department have been involved in eight shootings, several of which have proved deadly. The county only saw one or two police-involved shootings in an average year before 2022.
The shootings and other department policies have since been under the magnifying glass of community leaders and lawmakers. Now, a work group commissioned by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is out with its recommendations for the police department.
The Police Reform Matrix Working Group is asking for more community oversight, which includes allowing an independent body to investigate cases that involve use of force.
“The community is asking, and this committee is asking, that you open the lanes that have the responsibility of their civilian review panel and give the panel independent investigating authority that is now permitted by the Virginia General Assembly,” said Vernon Walton, a pastor who served on the work group.
The 46-page report also called for a change in what is considered use of force, saying that any instance in which an officer points a gun should be reported as such.
During a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors safety and security committee meeting Tuesday, the group also called on the department to establish a foot pursuit policy, with community input. The request comes after the January death of Timothy Johnson.
He was wanted for shoplifting a pair of sunglasses, was chased into a wooded area near Tysons Corner Center and then shot by police. Johnson was unarmed.
Sgt. Wesley Shifflett was fired in March, after he was accused by the department of violating use-of-force policies when he opened fire on Johnson. A grand jury declined to indict the officer.
“The increase in officer-involved shootings in the past year-and-a-half have caused tremendous concern, particularly that of Mr. Johnson, and more specifically, the questions around the investigation,” Walton said.
In response to the shooting that claimed Johnson’s life, the work group also called for a review of the police department’s “special” units. Shifflett was a member of one such unit, which was stationed at Tysons Corner Center.
The recommendations also believe a decision to use force by an officer should be “in principle, necessary and proportional.”
The report also called for more to be done in responding to calls involving individuals suffering from a mental crisis. The report suggested making the department’s co-responder team, which sends behavioral health experts out to calls, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Right now, co-responders are only available between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.
There were also calls for another look at how officers are evaluated and the department’s transparency. One recommendation would have surveys sent to people who have interactions with police officers.
“These audits will take place after traffic stops, encounters with police officers, and these audits will be reviewed by a community advisory group and published annually for review,” Walton said.
Captain Eli Cory with the police department said there are follow-ups sent after traffic stops through a third-party company, and feedback is more than 80% positive.
After hearing the recommendations, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay said he looks forward to reviewing all the recommendations.
“To be a great police department, you have to constantly evolve, constantly look at best practice, constantly learn lessons from experiences that literally are happening every day of every minute,” McKay said.
McKay acknowledged several work groups are also looking into police policies, and that the police department may already be considering or putting in place some of the recommendations.
The police department has instituted reforms over recent years, some of which dealt with use of force protocol. Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis will have time to review the recommendations before weighing in on them before the board of supervisors.