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A Fairfax County fire truck departs station 34 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Additional raises are coming for Fairfax County government employees, specifically firefighters, police officers and other uniformed public safety workers.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors plans to allocate $6.1 million in the upcoming budget to give a step increase to certain public safety workers hired on or before June 30, 2021. The proposal is part of a mark-up package that will go before the board tomorrow (Tuesday).

“This adjustment, which targets job classes that have seen higher levels of resignations, almost exclusively benefits employees at the first two ranks in the respective departments,” the county said in the pre-markup budget draft.

At a budget policy committee meeting on Friday (April 22), staff told Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity that nearly a third of public safety workers will receive the additional step increase, which along with other raises would translate into 14.01% increases in compensation. Similar to previous remarks, Herrity said the county should devote more than $6.1 million to the increased compensation.

The pre-markup draft also gives the step increase to the sheriff’s office, though vacancies and recruiting difficulties in the county have extended beyond public safety.

Presented in February, the advertised budget for fiscal year 2023, which starts July 1, called for:

  • 4.01% market rate adjustment raises for county workers
  • Performance, merit and longevity increases across the board
  • A new 25-year-longevity raise for uniformed public safety workers, who got an average pay increase of 7.86%

Other county government workers would get 6.16% salary increases under the advertised plan, according to the county, and the board says it recognizes that recruitment and retention challenges remain.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement today (Monday) that he wanted to ensure his budget proposal strategically targeted areas where employees were leaving.

Not all public servants would get the changes they asked for, though.

Despite a public defenders’ request for equal pay compared to prosecutors, the revised and likely final budget will not include funding for that. Last year, the county extended 15% salary supplements for state probation and parole officers as well as staff in the Office of the Public Defender.

“If the state were to appropriately compensate these employees, the need for County-funded salary supplements would be eliminated,” McKay said, reading from the pre-markup budget draft. “However, despite the County’s best efforts — and despite the availability of state funding — the state has not taken action to address pay concerns of its own employees, most notably those in the Office of the Public Defender. The funding of this office is inherently a state responsibility.”

He added he has “spent significant time over the past couple days talking to our members of the General Assembly delegation” to address state funding for the public defender’s office.

He shared that state employees, which include public defenders, are slated to receive at least a 5% salary increase. McKay noted that the General Assembly budget is still under consideration, and more adjustments could occur.

For General District Court staff overall, the advertised budget earmarks a 4.01% market rate adjustment uptick as well as performance and longevity raises. That would increase county spending from $1.72 million to $1.8 million.

Meanwhile, the advertised budget will decrease county expenses for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney from $6.96 million to $6.75 million.

The revised budget, which will be adopted on May 10, also calls for a property tax rate of $1.11 per $100 of assessed value and other changes.

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Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County’s work release program remains shut down due to the pandemic, keeping one option for inmates off of the table for a little over two years.

Due to concerns about the transmission of COVID-19, the county’s sheriff’s office says its is unclear when and if the program will resume. The program first shut down in March 2020.

“We cannot have inmates going to places of business, potentially being exposed to COVID, and then exposing other inmates when they return at the end of their work shift,” Andrea Ceisler, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, told FFXnow.

Even when the Fairfax County Health Department gives the green light, it’s still unclear if the office has enough manpower to staff the program, according to Sheriff Stacey Kincaid.

The office doesn’t have enough resources to screen inmates and potential employers. Ceisler added that monitoring inmates offsite is a “labor intensive” activity.

Its vacancy rate has risen from 11% last year to nearly 15% this month. That’s despite launching a website dedicated to recruiting and establishing a full-time recruiting position.

“A major issue concerns pay,” Ceisler said. “Although our deputy sheriff recruits attend the same Criminal Justice Academy as Police Department recruits, complete the same training side by side, and have several overlapping responsibilities, our deputies are paid less than their police counterparts.”

At most ranks, ranks deputies receive 2.5% less than equivalent police ranks. At the rank of sergeant and second lieutenant, deputies receive 7.5% less.

“The pay disparity impacts recruiting as well as retention,” she said.

Over the last three years, the number of inmates enrolled in the county’s work-release program has decreased significantly.

In 2017, 112 inmates were enrolled, and 44 successfully completed the remainder of their sentence while in the program. In 2019, just 48 inmates were enrolled, though 32 completed the remainder of their sentence.

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Morning Notes

The Tysons skyline (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Electrical Event Caused Chantilly House Fire — “Fire Investigators determined that the fire was accidental in nature and started in the electrical panel box located in the basement. The cause of the fire was an electrical event involving wiring in the electrical panel box.” [FCFRD]

Sheriff’s Office Donates Ballistic Vests to Ukraine — “Due to the dire situation in Ukraine and the scarcity of body armor, the Sheriff’s Office and our Supply section, led by 2nd Lt. Kim, are proud to be able to donate 110 ballistic vests for the Lift Up Ukraine campaign. We hope our equipment will help protect the lives of Ukrainians as they defend their country from the Russian invasion.” [Fairfax County Sheriff Facebook]

Historic Egg Roll in Vienna — From 5:30 – 7 p.m. today, Historic Freeman Store and Museum, 131 Church St., SE, will hold an egg roll. “Families and children 12 and younger are invited to enjoy an old-fashioned egg roll, games, story time and more! The event is presented by Historic Vienna, Inc. and the Town of Vienna. For more information email Lily Widman or call 703-255-6360.” [Town of Vienna]

Lake Accotink Carousel Closed — “Due to maintenance issues, Lake Accotink Park’s carousel will not be open this weekend. However, mini-Golf will be open for normal operations. Also, the lake is now available for private boating.” [Fairfax County Parks]

Some Now Eligible for Second Booster — This week, the FDA authorized, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended, a second booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for people who are at least 50 years old; those between 18 and 49 who received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine as both their primary dose and booster dose; and those who are 12 years old and older whose immune system is moderately or severely impaired based on disease or medications they are taking. [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

FCPS Highlights Program — “For some FCPS families, the children aren’t the only ones practicing their instruments each night. The FCPS Parent Orchestra, started four years ago, is a chance for parents to learn how to play, connect with their child’s learning, and create new friendships.” [FCPS]

It’s Friday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 63 and low of 40. Sunrise at 6:54 a.m. and sunset at 7:33 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax County police badge (via FCPD/Facebook)

(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) A new bill that would let Virginia law enforcement use facial recognition technology is headed to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 741, which was proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), would let local law enforcement agencies use the technology to investigate specific criminal incidents related to certain acts of violence and to identify deceased individuals and victims of online child sexual abuse material.

“The bill would put regulations and restrictions in place along with regular transparency for the use of facial recognition — not just with law enforcement, but also with identifying persons,” Surovell said.

Passed by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this month, the bill was communicated to Gov. Glenn Youngkin last Tuesday (March 22). If signed, the bill would create a model for local law enforcement agencies, which could create their own policies but must meet standards set by the Virginia State Police.

For now at least, the legislative shift doesn’t seem to have inspired any particular interest from Fairfax County’s law enforcement agencies.

“Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office does not possess facial recognition technology and has no plans to acquire or implement such technology,” Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Andrea Ceisler told FFXnow.

County Director of Public Affairs Tony Castrilli said that the Fairfax County Police Department also does not currently use facial recognition technology.

“The legislative process regarding this bill is pending,” he said. “As a result we will not be providing any response at this time.”

Virginia currently has a partial ban on local law enforcement agencies using facial recognition technology. That measure took effect in July 2021.

The partial ban does not extend to the Virginia State Police, and local law enforcement agencies can apply to the state police to use the technology in their cases.

“The only system that has been and is currently in use is the Centralized Criminal Image System, which was procured through DataWorks Plus,” VSP Public Relations Director Corinne Geller said. “CCIS allows criminal justice users to access images for identification purposes as well as perform lineups, witness sessions and facial recognition searches.”

The system lets the VSP compare an unknown image to a database of mugshots of previous arrestees. The software returns a list of candidates, rather than making a one-to-one match. CCIS is contained within the VSP’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division.

Surovell says he developed S.B. 741 to replace the partial ban, arguing that facial recognition technology could help police solve cases more quickly. He specifically cited last year’s so-called “shopping cart killer” investigations as an example when talking to FFXnow.

Other lawmakers fear the bill may contribute to civil rights issues and over-policing.

“When we consider the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement, the stakes are high because a mistake could mean that you deny justice for a victim and you take away an innocent person’s freedom,” Del. Kathy Tran (D-42) said. “The research is clear — women and people of color, particularly Black and Asian people, have greatly elevated risks of being falsely identified by this technology.”

Youngkin has until 11:59 p.m. on April 11 to sign SB 741 into law. If he does, the Virginia State Police would be required to develop a policy for the technology’s use by Jan. 1, 2023.

Photo via FCPD/Facebook

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The Fairfax County Adult Detention Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(updated at 4:30 p.m.) Police identified the second man who died at the Fairfax County Detention Center this week as the allegedly unlicensed masseuse who was charged with sexually assaulting a woman at an Annandale clinic.

Kyung Pil Chang, 55, of Haymarket was being held at the jail without bond on four felony charges related to a sexual assault at an Annandale location reported on Jan. 25. Chang was found unresponsive in quarantine housing at the jail around 4:25 p.m. yesterday (Tuesday). After medical staff and deputies rendered life-saving efforts, City of Fairfax Fire and Rescue pronounced him dead at 4:49 p.m.

“This morning, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy. Preliminarily, there are no signs of foul play,” FCPD said in a press release. “Our detectives are coordinating with the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office to gather the facts and circumstances surrounding this death.”

According to the Fairfax County Police Department, a woman had reported that Chang fondled and penetrated her while giving her a massage at the Annandale Gerontology Clinic (4216 Evergreen Lane).

“The victim was able to stop the assault, left the business, and reported the incident,” police said in a news release.

Chang turned himself in Friday after police obtained warrants for aggravated sexual battery, object sexual penetration and practicing as an unlicensed masseuse, police said.

Police say Chang was a contractor for “several other businesses” in Fairfax County, and detectives were seeking to identify those locations.

In accordance with both agencies’ policies, the death is under investigation by the Fairfax County Police Department.

This is the second in-custody death that the county jail has seen in as many days. A 65-year-old man identified by police as George Redmond was similarly found unresponsive in his cell on Monday (March 28) and died that day in a hospital.

Prior to that, the last reported inmate death was Christopher Fojt, 30, of Reston, in April 2021.

The sheriff’s office declined to comment on this week’s two deaths, and the police department did not immediately return FFXnow’s request for comment.

Alan Henney and Brandi Bottalico contributed to this report.

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Inside the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A 65-year-old man incarcerated at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center died yesterday (Monday), triggering a police investigation.

According to the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, a sheriff’s deputy found the man “unresponsive” in his cell at around 9:20 a.m.

“The deputy immediately rendered aid until relieved by ADC medical personnel,” the news release said. “Rescue arrived, continued lifesaving measures and transported the inmate to a hospital. The inmate was pronounced deceased by hospital personnel.”

The Fairfax County Police Department confirmed this morning (Tuesday) that detectives from its Major Crimes Bureau are investigating the death in accordance with the department and sheriff’s office policies.

Police identified the man as George Redmond, stating that he was originally arrested by Alexandria City police for failing to appear in response to a warrant for charges of trespassing and destruction of property.

The Alexandria City Police Department later transferred custody of Redmond to Fairfax County, where Redmond had been in jail since Friday (March 25).

“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy, but preliminarily, there are no signs of foul play,” the FCPD said.

This is the first death at the county jail since April 2021, when Christopher Fojt, 30, of Reston, was reportedly found unresponsive in a cell and died after being transported to a hospital.

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Morning Notes

I-495 South under Route 7 overpass in Pimmit Hills (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Woman Dies in Crash on I-495 — Virginia State Police are investigating a fatal crash on I-495 near the Eisenhower Avenue Connector in the Rose Hill area. The crash occurred at 9:27 p.m. on Saturday (March 5) when a sedan hit a disabled vehicle, causing it to catch fire. The driver of the disabled vehicle died at the scene, while the sedan driver suffered minor injuries and was arrested on multiple charges, including driving under the influence. [Virginia State Police, InsideNova]

Trial for McLean Murder Suspect Begins — “Fairfax County police quickly announced that what unfolded inside the large, yellow home in McLean in 2017 appeared to be a tragic murder-suicide…But after a 16-month investigation, police offered a stunning turnabout: what initially appeared to be a murder-suicide was allegedly a double killing. They claimed the scene had been carefully staged by the real perpetrator.” [The Washington Post]

I-66 to Close Overnight in Fairfax This Week — “All lanes of I-66 West approaching Route 50 will close nightly, March 9-12, to allow for installation of bridge beams for a new access ramp from the future westbound I-66 Express Lanes to Route 50 West as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project.” [VDOT]

No Injuries Reported in Reston Shooting Incident — Police responded to the 2200 block of Castle Rock Square around 11:17 p.m. last Tuesday (March 1) after members of the Shadowood Condominium complex community reported hearing gunshots. Officers found damage to a buildings and numerous cartridge cases in the area. [Patch]

Lorton Pizza Restaurant Robbed — According to Fairfax County police, a man entered Antonelli’s Pizza (8212 Gunston Corner Lane) around 9:53 p.m. on March 1 and assaulted an employee. The man walked behind the counter, discharged a firearm, and took property before leaving. The employee was treated for injuries considered not life threatening. [FCPD]

Sheriff’s Office Expands Mental Health Services for Staff — “Dr. Grace Davidson, Licensed Professional Counselor, recently joined the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office under contract full-time to provide behavioral health services for the agency’s 550 employees and their families.” [Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office]

McLean Teacher Gives Art Class to Support Ukraine Relief — “During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pamela Saunders has used art as a way to keep children engaged during virtual learning. Now she can use her platform as a way to show support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.” [Patch]

Work Begins Today on New Lorton Playground — “The Fairfax County Park Authority will soon begin work on a new playground at Laurel Hill Central Green. Construction is scheduled to start the week of March 7 and is anticipated to be completed next month.” [FCPA/Twitter]

New Sidewalk Built to Park in Groveton — “The Telegraph Road Walkway project features more than half a mile of new sidewalk along the south side of Telegraph Road from 500 feet north of S. Kings Highway to the entrance of Lee District Park and Rose Hill Road. Watch the ribbon cutting ceremony.” [Fairfax TV Channel 16/Twitter]

It’s Monday — Showers are likely and possibly a thunderstorm, mainly after 4 p.m. Today will have a high near 80 and low near 42. It will be breezy, with a southwest wind 11 to 21 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms. Sunrise was at 6:30 a.m. and sunset will be at 6:08 p.m. [weather.gov]

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Fairfax County’s approach to criminal justice is quite different from when public defender Bryan Kennedy started his job here a decade ago.

In 2010, the county housed 1,207 people in its jail. That population has been nearly halved, down to 667 people in 2020, according to 2020 Census data compiled by The Marshall Project.

Going back further, the county’s inmate population was 3,749 people in 2000. But the changes from 2000-2010 involved the 2001 closure of the Lorton Reformatory, which housed over 2,800 people as of Dec. 31, 1999 and had its inmates moved to other facilities across Virginia and the federal prison system.

More recently, policy and cultural changes have dramatically altered the county’s judicial system, according to Kennedy, who also belongs to the criminal justice reform group Justice Forward Virginia.

“Ten years ago judges sentenced people to jail much more frequently on low level charges (both misdemeanors and felonies), including misdemeanors like possession of marijuana and driving on a suspended license,” Kennedy said in an email. “People were also held pretrial and held on secured bonds (cash bonds) that they could not afford much more frequently.”

After taking office in 2020 as one of three new progressive prosecutors in Northern Virginia, current Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano ended the use of cash bail and stopped prosecuting simple marijuana possession cases prior to the state’s legalization, though future reform efforts could be challenged by Virginia’s incoming Republican administration.

Kennedy told FFXnow that the judicial system is now more receptive to alternatives to incarceration, as judges and prosecutors feel more comfortable not placing people in jail, because those individuals are getting more services outside of jail.

County Adopts Diversion Framework

One possible driving force behind the decline in Fairfax County’s incarcerated population in the last decade is its Diversion First policy, which began in 2016 after Natasha McKenna’s death at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center in February 2015.

The initiative aims to reduce the incarceration of people with mental health and substance use issues, as well as intellectual and developmental disabilities, by directing those arrested for nonviolent offenses to services instead of jail, which the county says is less costly. Read More

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Fairfax County’s work release program has been shuttered since March 2020 due to the pandemic. But when the transitional program restarts, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office is unsure how it will be able to manage it.

Faced with an uncharacteristically high vacancy rate of 11.4%, the sheriff’s office says it’s changing how it operates to make basic functions possible. The office is tasked with operating the detention center, providing security for the courthouse and courtrooms, and serving the civil law process.

“Whenever the health department recommends that we can safely restart work release, we need to evaluate if we have sufficient staff to actually restart it,” said Andrea Ceisler, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.

To manage, the office has redeployed staff from other areas to the Adult Detention Center and eliminated assignments to specialized units like the fugitive task force and gang unit. Hiring is ongoing, but the number of applications has dipped.

“Even with mandatory overtime, our squads are short-staffed,” Ceisler said. She says the office is also turning down new requests to take part in programs by community groups and schools.

The order to shut down the work release program — which allows some inmates to work and take part in community programs as they transition out of incarceration — came from the Fairfax County Health Department. It’s unclear when it will restart, but the decision will be guided by when community transmission levels are reduced from substantial to moderate or low.

Over the last three years, the number of inmates enrolled in the county’s work-release program has decreased significantly.

In 2017, 112 inmates were enrolled and 44 successfully completed the remainder of their sentence while in the program. In 2019, just 48 inmates were enrolled, though 32 completed the remainder of their sentence.

Over the last 10 years, the need for more staff has also grown — particularly at the detention center.

Cell blocks that can house 20 inmates typically hold 10 inmates, a configuration that dramatically reduces the number of fights and encourages more compliance with rules. An increase in training — including crisis intervention and mental health first aid — also takes off staff from their line of work.

“Should the pandemic end, we will have to evaluate staffing in the Alternative Incarceration Branch where the staff-to-inmate ratio is much smaller for programs such as Work Release, the Community Labor Force and STAR, our addiction treatment and recovery program,” Ceisler said. “For the safety and security of our staff, inmates and the people who live and work in the county, sufficient staffing in the Adult Detention Center must remain a top priority.”

Public safety and law enforcement departments have reported high vacancy rates nationally. Staffing has declined for the past eight years, with 86% of departments across the country reporting a shortage last year.

Major Tamara Gold, the sheriff’s office assistant chief, told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last month that the problem is expected to intensify in the coming months.

The office’s staff are paid between 2.5 and 7.5% less than equivalent positions in the Fairfax County Police Department. Many staff has left the office for employment with FCPD, which is grappling with its own staff shortage.

The sheriff’s office did resume its community labor force program earlier this year, where inmates work outdoors in crews of five under the supervision of an armed deputy sheriff. Crews complete landscaping, emergency snow removal, litter pick up, and other tasks.

Photo via Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook

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Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano (left) and Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Kyle Manikas (right) after going through a courthouse security screening (courtesy Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

Video of an encounter between Fairfax County’s top prosecutor and security personnel at the county courthouse does not appear to be consistent with some of the allegations leveled in a Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office incident report.

The report claims Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and a colleague lost their tempers during a courthouse security screening. According to the Sept. 30 report, Descano and Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Kyle Manikas questioned and cursed at security officers when directed to go through a metal detector upon entering the Fairfax County Courthouse at 9:37 a.m. on Sept. 28.

But the two main triggers that the report says prompted Descano and Manikas to display “disrespect” and “unprofessional conduct” toward the security guards are absent from the video, notes a courthouse source who has also seen the footage viewed by FFXnow.

The report states that, after seeing two law enforcement officers in full uniform bypass the checkpoint and being told by the security guards that uniformed law enforcement officers were exempt from the mandatory security screening, Descano responded by saying “That’s bullshit,” “Don’t you know who I am?”, and “I’m the top law enforcement officer in Fairfax County.”

While no audio was recorded, courthouse security camera footage provided by the sheriff’s office does not show any uniformed law enforcement officers coming into the building and passing the security checkpoint.

Around the time Descano arrives, a sheriff’s deputy and a uniformed man wearing a vest emblazoned with the logo for the security company Brink’s walk by the checkpoint, but they are leaving the courthouse, not entering.

Security camera footage shows a sheriff’s deputy and another uniformed officer pass the security checkpoint on their way out of the courthouse (courtesy Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

The sheriff’s office report, which is signed by both a deputy and a supervisor, states that the two security guards gave statements and that facility security “provided a video to corroborate the visual part of the incident.”

“We do not have any comments about the report,” the sheriff’s office said when asked about the discrepancies between its incident report and the security camera video.

The report also says Manikas “was visibly upset about being screened and kept saying ‘This is f**king bulls**t.'”

According to the report, Manikas also became upset when told that the x-ray machine detected a knife in his lunch bag and that an additional search of the bag was needed, claiming that there was no knife in the bag.

After a security officer “rotated the screen of the x-ray around to show CDCA Kyle Manikas the image he was looking at,” the report claims the prosecutor stated, “This is f**king bulls**t, I know you are doing your job, but this is bulls**t.” A search of the bag revealed a butter knife.

In the video, however, when one of the security officers gestures that he needs to look through Manikas’s backpack, Manikas unzips the bag and opens what appears to be a lunch box without any visible hesitation. The officer doesn’t show Manikas a screen, and his side of the x-ray machine is inaccessible to visitors, blocked by the tables where people collect their belongings after getting screened.

A security officer gives a “thumbs up” after checking Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Kyle Manikas’s bag (courtesy Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

“As the full video reflects, the report paints an inconsistent picture of what actually occurred,” Benjamin Shnider, chief of staff for the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, said in a statement to FFXnow.

Descano and Manikas were not available to comment directly.

The incident report circulated around conservative blogs and media before being reported by the Sun Gazette and FFXnow yesterday (Thursday).

Descano has become a target of conservatives since he was one of three Northern Virginia prosecutors elected in 2019 on criminal justice reform platforms, including pledges to stop prosecuting marijuana possession, end the use of cash-bail and the death penalty, and reduce mass incarceration.

Like his reform-minded counterparts in Arlington and Loudoun, Descano is currently facing a recall effort spearheaded by Virginians for Safe Communities, a group led by Republican operatives and funded by undisclosed donors.

A separate group called Stand Up Virginia launched its own recall campaign against Descano in April.

Both groups argue that his office has failed crime victims by declining to prosecute some misdemeanor cases and offering plea deals that some judges have criticized as inadequate.

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