Fairfax County board likely to approve consolidation of animal control services

Fairfax County Animal Shelter on West Ox Road (staff photo by James Jarvis)

The Fairfax County Department of Animal Sheltering (DAS) will likely assume the duties of the Animal Protection Police, starting this summer.

At a mark-up session last Tuesday (April 30), the Board of Supervisors indicated that it will implement the consolidation by transferring a position from the Fairfax County Police Department and creating a new chief animal control officer (ACO) as part of the fiscal year 2025 budget, which is scheduled to be formally adopted tomorrow (Tuesday).

However, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity argued that eliminating animal protection police officers (APPOs) is not in the best interest of residents, echoing concerns raised by the county’s police union that the new arrangement might reduce officers’ benefits and impact both public safety and animal welfare.

“We still haven’t addressed what’s gonna happen with wildlife services,” Herrity said. “‘I will figure it out later’ is not good enough when you’re looking at a major restructuring like this. We heard overwhelming opposition from a very diverse group of our residents…from employee groups to HOAs, to wildlife rehabilitators to environmentalists. There’s been no cost impact analysis done.”

The county sees the creation of the ACO position as the first step in the planned consolidation, which will take 18 to 24 months to fully implement, according to the DAS budget. If it’s approved, most funding and positions will be included in next year’s proposed budget.

Herrity proposed amending the FY 2025 budget, which will take effect on July 1, to remove the position transfer, but the motion died without a vote after no one seconded it.

Dranesville District Supervisor Jimmy Bierman argued that civilian animal control officers could handle the services provided by APPOs, freeing up police officers to focus on higher-priority calls.

“Most emergency calls from Animal Services in Fairfax County are not law enforcement matters,” Bierman said. “The majority of calls or requests for assistance…involve minor code violations.”

Staff have been instructed to provide additional information about the roles of DAS staff and police officers under this new structure and any changes in their approach to wildlife and other services.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said the board will focus on best practices regarding the new configuration moving forward.

“This is not an easy decision, but from what I have seen, the potential impact and improvements on our current offerings are excellent in many ways,” she said. But I think we could really use—as we’ve all agreed—some improvements in the way it’s communicated and structured, meeting our needs, wanting to continue to be the best, and looking at best practices.”

Reducing police involvement in animal control

County staff proposed in January that animal control officers, supervised by the DAS, take over the responsibilities of the animal protection police, including animal care and law enforcement.

They argued that since few animal service emergencies require police action, many tasks can be handled by trained civilians, reducing the need for police involvement in every situation.

“Most emergency calls for animal services in Fairfax County are not law enforcement matters,” DAS Director Reasa Currier told FFXnow in an email. “Most calls are requests for assistance with injured, ill, orphaned, or stray animals, or involve minor code violations.”

In 2016, Fairfax County divided animal care and control functions between the DAS and the police department, but the new system has been “ineffective” and led to “gaps in service,” Currier says.

Under the proposed changes, animal control officers would assume a role similar to that of the APPs, managing all service calls, including investigations of animal cruelty, execution of search warrants, and administering rabies vaccinations.

According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, ACOs must complete at least 120 hours (three weeks) of basic training, covering areas such as animal sciences, animal-related law and basic law enforcement.

Unlike animal protection officers, ACOs won’t train at the police academy, but the FCPD would still provide support for criminal investigations involving animals when needed, per the DAS website.

Difference in training and loss of benefits

During a budget public hearing last month, the Southern States Police Benevolent Association’s (SSPBA) Fairfax County chapter, the recognized union for FCPD officers, urged supervisors against consolidating the two services, citing concerns regarding employee equity and public safety.

Several members said their training at the police academy prepares them to handle a broader range of dangerous situations that ACOs may not be equipped to handle without similar training.

“I would never ask anyone to do this job without sending them to the police academy,” SSPBA member and APPO Kathleen Prucnal said at an April 16 meeting. “…I’m doing on that training every time I walked up to a door alone with a difficult job that had to be done. Every time I initiated contact with a known gang member. Every time I was alone on a dark highway putting a suffering animal out of its misery. The job takes a toll.”

Prucnal and others also raised concerns about a potential loss of benefits for any animal protection police officers who become ACOs instead of staying with the FCPD.

Although pay and retirement would remain unchanged, several members noted that police can get federal benefits typically available to first responders, including workers’ compensation, disability retirement, and state and federal health insurance.

“This proposal claims that no change in pay or retirement would happen, but what has not been discussed is the change of benefits for the traumatic scenes exposure to hazardous materials or protection and benefits my family should I be killed in the line of duty,” SSPBA member and APPO Taylor Naumoff said. “If I were to choose to become an ACO, I forgo the benefits provided to law enforcement officers and potentially leave my children without their mother and any assistance should the worst occur.”

SSPBA Fairfax County Vice President Siobhan Chase says the objections to the consolidation aren’t meant to diminish the work of ACOs in other jurisdictions, but the union believes animal control is more effective when handled by fully sworn law enforcement officers.

“The current proposal is built upon providing the new ACOs with the state minimum training (3 weeks) as a cost-saving measure,” Chase told FFXnow by email. “The link between domestic violence, animal cruelty, child abuse, and other interpersonal violence speaks to how this training is necessary for ACOs.”