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Police union objects to proposed merger of county’s animal shelter and police services

Fairfax County Animal Protection Police officers recently attended the release of a bald eagle they found injured in Fairfax Station (via FCPD)

A plan to consolidate the duties of Fairfax County’s Department of Animal Sheltering (DAS) and Animal Protection Police (APP) is drawing some pushback from the local police union.

Last month, county staff proposed to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors that DAS take charge of both animal care services and enforcement of animal protection laws, which would be carried out by animal control officers (ACOs). The recommendation came from both DAS and Fairfax County Police Department leaders.

However, the county’s chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (SSPBA), the elected union for the FCPD, argues the planned consolidation would have substantial negative impacts on the department’s existing animal protection police officers (APPOs), the community, pets, and wildlife.

“ACOs have different authorities and are not considered law enforcement officers under Virginia code, which would be a fundamental change to the position as it has been historically implemented in Fairfax County,” SSPBA Fairfax County President Steve Monahan told FFXnow.

Under the proposal, animal control officers would have a similar scope of authority as APPOs and handle all calls for service, including investigations of animal cruelty, search warrants, and rabies vaccinations. Currently, the FCPD’s Animal Protection Police unit handles encounters between humans and animals, including potential criminal situations.

ACOs would still get required training through the Commonwealth of Virginia, but they wouldn’t go through the police academy as APPOs do. The FCPD would continue to assist with criminal investigations.

“The proposed reduction of legal authority of ACOs within DAS’s model would inevitably result in FCPD patrol officers being tasked with additional animal-related responsibilities despite not having the same level of animal-related training as our current, fully sworn APPOs,” Monahan said.

The SSPBA says ACOs elsewhere in the state regularly fight for better pay, benefits, and training. The union believes Fairfax County’s proposal would exploit officers by requiring the same work with less pay.

“The county is proposing to replace the current structure with one that includes positions with less enforcement authority, less training, and fewer employee benefits and protections than their predecessors,” Monahan said. “Typically, whenever employees are asked to do the same work with less protections and benefits, this results in a high turnover rate and significant difficulty in filling vacancies.”

According to the staff presentation on Jan. 30, the county’s decision to split animal care and control functions between the DAS and the police department in 2016 didn’t “result in a successful integration of two separate departments working together to provide animal services.”

DAS currently manages two public animal shelters, one on West Ox Road in the Fairfax area and a second campus that opened in Lorton last October.

DAS Director Reasa Currier told FFXnow that having animal care and control services run by two departments with different missions is expensive and ineffective.

“Uniting animal care and control services under one department and utilizing Animal Control Officers will bring our county in alignment with surrounding jurisdictions and industry best practices, allow us to expand service delivery to our community, and reduce costs,” Currier said.

Additionally, she expressed confidence that ACOs can fully enforce animal protection laws, investigate cruelty and neglect, and rescue and transport wildlife.

DAS is also working closely with the SSPBA to ensure that APPOs aren’t negatively affected by the change and that their pay and retirement stay the same, according to Currier.

“This proposed model positions the county to meet the diverse needs of our residents and has worked successfully for decades in Alexandria, Arlington County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, the District of Columbia, Montgomery County and in jurisdictions nationwide,” Currier said.

If the proposal is included in the county executive’s advertised budget for fiscal year 2025, which will be presented on Feb. 20, the Board of Supervisors can then decide whether to adopt it.

Photo via FCPD

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