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The Fairfax County Animal Shelter (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County wants to consolidate the duties of its Department of Animal Sheltering (DAS) and Animal Protection Police (APP).

Under the new arrangement, DAS would oversee both animal care services and enforcement of animal protection laws, which would be carried out by animal control officers (ACO), according to the recommendation from DAS and the Fairfax County Police Department.

Staff presented the proposed changes to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a safety and security committee meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 30).

In 2016, the county chose to split animal care and control functions between the DAS and the police department, a decision that did not “result in a successful integration of two separate departments working together to provide animal services,” the proposal says.

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. The FCPD’s Animal Protection Police unit deals with encounters between humans and animals, including wildlife and potential criminal situations involving pets.

Under the proposed changes, ACOs would have “nearly the same” scope of authority as Animal Protection Police Officers (APPO) and would handle all calls for service, including for:

  • Issuing a summons, obtaining search and arrest warrants
  • Investigation of animal cruelty and neglect
  • Investigation of animal fighting
  • Investigation of animal bites
  • Response to sick, injured, or stray companion animals
  • Rabies vaccination and dog license enforcement

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

DAS Director Reasa Currier said having the two separate services has presented challenges for decades, and other jurisdictions that have consolidated their departments are seeing success.

“Jurisdictions that have recently moved to a consolidated model report significant benefits, including increased compliance rates, decreased shelter intake and a trusting community,” she said.

Describing animal services as a “highly specialized and technical field,” Currier said providing those services through one department “ensures we’re embracing industry best practices.”

She said the proposal would also enhance the health and safety of the community, and it’s in direct alignment with the county’s One Fairfax policy and equity goals.

In addition to their law enforcement duties, ACOs would connect pet owners with several services, such as free pet food and supplies as well as free and low-cost veterinary care.

“It is important to note that this proposed model does not replace enforcement for animal cruelty and neglect,” Currier added.

Deputy Chief of Police Lt. Robert Blakely said the changes would allow police officers to focus more on enforcing the law and would have very little impact on animals and people in the community.

“An animal control officer can enforce all of Virginia’s animal control laws as it pertains to domesticated animals running at-large and rabies vaccinations and county ordinances,” Blakely said.

Police Chief Kevin Davis said the people calling for service would see a similar process. For example, residents would still call the Department of Public Safety Communications through 911 or the non-emergency number, and the department would still dispatch animal control officers to respond to the scene.

“In the very few cases that police were needed to assist, police would then be added to that call, just as we are today,” Davis said.

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

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Fairfax County police arrested 10 men in a sting operation focused on online solicitations of sex from children (courtesy FCPD)

Almost a dozen men, whose jobs reportedly range from technology worker to yoga instructor, have been charged with attempting to solicit sex from children after a three-day sting operation by the Fairfax County Police Department.

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis announced this morning that 10 men were arrested as a result of “Operation ADC Express 2,” which began on Dec. 18 and involved undercover detectives with the department’s Child Exploitation Unit posing online as 13 or 14-year-old teens.

Noting that several of those arrested have criminal records, Davis said he’s “satisfied” to see that “10 predators are in jail this holiday season.”

“We never know the true impact of taking one of these predators off the street, because ultimately, they offend again, again and again,” Davis said at the press conference. “It’s been my experience that the only way to interrupt the criminal misconduct of these types of predators is to incarcerate them, so that’s exactly what we did.”

According to the FCPD, the undercover detectives encountered the suspects in online forums, where the men initiated “sexually related conversations” even though the detectives explicitly presented themselves as underaged.

The men were arrested when they attempted to meet the detectives, who they believed were teens, at an agreed-upon “familiar public place,” Davis said.

Collectively facing 25 felony charges, all of the suspects are in custody at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bond, as of this morning, according to police.

  1. Michael Flannery, 33, of Winchester was arrested and charged with Attempted Indecent Liberties and Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old.
  2. Casto Ian Unson III, 35, of Vienna was arrested and charged with Attempted Indecent Liberties and Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old.
  3. Ravi Vongavolu, 24, of Herndon was arrested and charged with Attempted Indecent Liberties and Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old.
  4. Rabiul Islam, 44, of Arlington was arrested and charged with Attempted Indecent Liberties and Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old and Attempted Production of CSAM.
  5. Osman Aslan, 30, of Vienna was arrested and charged with Attempted Indecent Liberties and Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old.
  6. Estuardo Orozco Orozco, 27, of Falls Church was arrested and charged with Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old.
  7. Mohamed Elnefili, 38, of Qatar was arrested and charged with Attempted Indecent Liberties and Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old. He was currently staying in Springfield at the time of his arrest.
  8. Roy Hayes, 22 of Herndon was arrested and charged with Attempted Indecent Liberties and Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old.
  9. Imran Ahmad, 42, of Ashburn was arrested and charged with Attempted Indecent Liberties and Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old.
  10. Bassem Karam, 36, of Herndon was arrested and charged with Attempted Indecent Liberties and Computer-Solicitation of Child Under 15-Years-Old.

Police officials urged parents to have conversations with their children about safely using apps and social media and avoiding inappropriate interactions with strangers online, suggesting the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children as a resource.

According to Davis, one of the FCPD’s goals for 2024 is to conduct more operations similar to this three-day crackdown.

“Our community can expect to see more of this in 2024, because our children deserve it,” he said.

Fairfax County police car with lights flashing (file photo)

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) The long-fought activism of one local resident has culminated in the Fairfax County Police Department changing its approach to publicly identifying where crimes occur.

Arlington-based blogger Dave Statter announced on Wednesday, July 12 that Police Chief Kevin Davis has committed to having FCPD public information officers and social media channels use community names, rather than postal addresses, in public safety announcements, clearing up decades of confusion.

A crash in the Fort Belvoir area, for instance, will no longer be described as happening in Alexandria, when the city’s limits are almost 10 miles away.

Known for his coverage of fire, EMS and police issues on Twitter and his blog, Statter argues that relying on postal addresses when informing the public of crime and safety incidents leads news outlets to share “imprecise” reports that associate murders or robberies in the wrong jurisdiction.

He says this issue is most relevant in Falls Church and Alexandria, two independent cities that share often unclear boundaries with Fairfax County.

The frequent conflation of the two cities with Fairfax County stems from the U.S. Postal Service providing a large swath of Fairfax County residents with Falls Church and Alexandria addresses, Statter claims. These addresses are provided to news outlets by PIOs when pinpointing the location of a crime, giving “people the impression that more crime was occurring in Alexandria [and Falls Church] than what was actually occurring,” Statter told FFXnow.

“The postal service created these artificial boundaries that don’t align with the real political boundaries that are on the map,” Statter said. “And you will often find a national story that says something that occurred in a town somewhere, but it really didn’t occur in that town — it was outside that town in a different jurisdiction. So it’s a problem that people have ignored for many years. I’m trying not to let them ignore it.”

The “general confusion” around city and county limits has also left many residents scratching their heads over where they really live and generated constant citizen inquiries to local governing bodies, Falls Church Communication Director Susan Finarelli says.

“People try to pay taxes to the city of Falls Church when, in fact, they live in Fairfax County,” Finarelli said. “…It is something that City of Falls Church government employees deal with all the time. I even copy and paste a statement of, ‘Oh, thank you so much for your email. Your address is actually in the Fairfax County part of Falls Church. Here’s how you can contact Fairfax County for that service.'”

To remedy this issue, which he says is not only endemic to Northern Virginia but the entire country, Statter has spent 41 long years advocating for PIOs and news outlets to instead use community and neighborhood names, such as Bailey’s Crossroads or Mount Vernon. Read More

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Hien The Dinh was arrested in connection with three sexual battery incidents (via FCPD)

A Stafford man was arrested on Friday (July 7) in connection with the sexual battery of a woman in Chantilly and two other incidents that police say are related.

Fairfax County police arrested Hien The Dinh, 20, on charges of abduction and sexual battery. Police say he approached a woman in “broad daylight” on July 3 around 11:30 a.m. in the 14500 block of Northeast Place and forcefully grabbed her in an intimate area and put her in a chokehold.

The victim had been walking down the street with her mother, who went to visit a neighbor’s house before the incident happened, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said when announcing the arrest on Friday.

According to Davis, the woman screamed, alerting her mother, who was able to intervene and prevent an apparent abduction attempt.

Police believe Dinh was also involved in a May 18 incident around the same neighborhood. In that case, a man broke into a house on Iberia Circle and tried to sexually assault a woman who managed to escape and call the police.

Davis said Dinh has also been linked to a May 10 sexual battery incident at Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun County campus.

Davis described the suspect as a “predator.”

“I don’t know what you do with a person like this besides incarcerate him, because he’s going to offend again and again and again,” Davis said.

The FCPD circulated video surveillance footage of the area, along with a composite sketch of the suspect. They found his car in the 3900 block of Stonecroft Blvd.

“Throughout the week, detectives were able to link the vehicle to Dinh after reviewing hours of surveillance footage and observing the vehicle in the vicinity at the time of the incident,” FCPD wrote in a statement.

Police arrested Dinh as he left a business in the area and entered the car.

He is being held on no bond at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center on charges of abduction with the intent to defile and sexual battery. Davis said he anticipates more charges, as investigations continue in all three cases.

FCPD Chief of Police Kevin Davis announces a partnership next to Zencity Chief Strategy Officer Michael Simon (via FCPD/Facebook)

The Fairfax County Police Department is partnering with Zencity to roll out a community survey tool that markets itself as a way to “reimagine” local policing.

Chief of Police Kevin Davis described Zencity Blockwise as a tool to measure public sentiment and build trust in the community at a press conference yesterday (Monday) to provide more information about the new countywide initiative. He was joined by Zencity Chief Strategy Officer Michael Simon.

“When we partnered with Zencity, we wanted to take that next step and better capture community feedback, community sentiment,” Davis said. “And we want to make sure that the things we do as a police department are in line with the expectations of our broader community.”

Zencity Blockwise is already used by other police departments across the country, including Chicago and San Diego, but it represents an evolution of public engagement tools utilized by FCPD.

Davis noted that just over a year ago, FCPD piloted My90, a community performance feedback tool designed to measure residents’ satisfaction with FCPD following an interaction with law enforcement.

However, Davis explained that, unlike that previous survey, Blockwise captures “sentiment about policing that is not pursuant or following a police interaction.”

Instead, the tool works to limit FCPD’s “blindspots” around residents’ everyday needs by increasing public access to local law enforcement and providing a platform for citizens across a vast and diverse jurisdiction to voice their concerns, according to Davis.

“The way to ensure that we have a more representative voice in the community is to reach as many people as humanly possible,” Davis said. “So people who don’t typically attend community meetings, people who don’t typically have interactions with their police departments, but they certainly do feel a certain way about public safety and about their police department.”

To assist in the FCPD’s goal of increasing its reach, Zencity uses census data to divide Fairfax County into its eight patrol regions and serve randomized digital advertisements to all devices across the county, according to Simon.

The advertisements encourage residents to submit an anonymous two-minute feedback survey that asks open-ended questions about the FCPD in eight different languages.

“You’ll see an advertisement that solicits your feedback wherever you may be on the internet,” Simon said. “That ad is targeted at you because we need you to fill a demographic and geographic quota that represents what the census data tells us about each individual neighborhood.”

The FCPD will then analyze the results to more effectively address the community’s most urgent needs based on the voluntary information provided by county residents. Drawing a parallel to other law enforcement technology that tracks local crime patterns to lower crime rates, Simon explained that Zencity measures three key indicators: fear of crime, trust and priority.

After enough data has been collected to establish a baseline, the survey results will be continually updated and posted to the FCPD’s open data portal, which already has data related to subjects such as use of force and internal retention rates, according to Davis, who emphasized a commitment to community transparency.

Since launching on Thursday, June 1, the survey has already received around 300 responses. Simon said Zencity hopes to garner 1,500 responses every month.

He also hinted that Zencity and FCPD will potentially pilot end-of-survey questions about respondents’ contact information, but for now, the service will be “one-directional.”

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Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis and GMU professor Dr. Cynthia Lum announce a long-term study of local police officers (via FCPD/Facebook)

(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) The Fairfax County Police Department and George Mason University have joined forces with an Arlington-based think tank to study how the attitudes and behavior of police officers evolve over the course of their careers.

Touted as the first of its kind in the U.S., the long-term or longitudinal study is intended to give the FCPD and other police departments a better understanding of how to address staffing challenges by following a select group of officers, potentially over decades.

The results could inform the FCPD’s recruiting efforts and provide a new look at what makes someone a successful police officer, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said at a 1 p.m. press conference, noting that divorce, suicide, alcoholism and domestic violence rates among police are “higher than the national norm.”

“We’re really happy to engage in this long-term journey to figure out what success looks like for Fairfax County, because we want to continue to lead on behalf of our profession,” Davis said. “We think over time and hopefully over many years, we’ll learn a lot more about who wants to become part of this profession and, once they enter our ranks, what determines their trajectory for success.”

Looking at both applicants and current officers, the study will be conducted independently by Dr. Cynthia Lum, a criminology professor in GMU’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, and the National Policing Institute.

With a gift provided by philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in 2022, the institute is funding the estimated $300,000 cost of the study’s first three years. That includes $186,401 that went to GMU to support its costs, according to National Policing Institute President Jim Burch.

Researchers hope to get enough money from public and private funders to continue the study for 10 to 20 years, Lum said.

With a current vacancy rate of 206 positions, the FCPD has been operating under a personnel emergency since July 2022, meaning officers are required to work overtime with two shifts in rotation instead of the usual three.

Compensation has emerged as the top concern from interviews with officers, though it’s not the only one, according to FCPD Administrative Support Bureau Commander Major Gregory Fried, citing a desire for a better work-life balance as another issue that has come up.

The police department has recently committed more money to job advertising and pay for public safety workers, along with efforts to modernize the hiring process. The next academy class starting April 24 will have 58 graduates, the most in a decade, Davis said.

Still, officer recruitment and retention have become a struggle for law enforcement agencies across the country.

“We’re losing some of our best, and we struggle to bring in the best as well. As we face these challenges, though, taxpayers rightfully expect more,” Burch said. “Communities want more effective and fair policing. They want safer communities…The reality is policing is a profession. It’s not a vocation…We must invest, and that’s what this study is about, investing in those who step up to serve in their communities.”

The national exodus of officers has frequently been attributed to declining morale in the face of heightened public scrutiny, but Covid and mass early retirements may be bigger contributors to burnout, according to The Marshall Project, which reported earlier this year that local government employment in general has dropped since 2020.

Burch hopes to see the study of Fairfax County police officers replicated in other jurisdictions.

“What we learn here in Fairfax County will inform and improve policing across the United States,” Burch said.

The FCPD is also working with the D.C. nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) on a review of shootings by its officers, which increased last year. That study was initiated in early March after Maryland resident Timothy Johnson was shot and killed outside Tysons Corner Center on Feb. 22.

Davis announced on March 23 that the officer who fired the fatal shot that evening had been fired.

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Fairfax County police barricaded part of Richmond Highway to negotiate with an armed woman experiencing a mental health crisis (via FCPD/Twitter)

An armed woman who police say was experiencing a mental health crisis is now being held without bond at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center.

The woman, who has been identified as 29-year-old Maryland resident Brittney Copelin, was taken into custody shortly after midnight today (Thursday), ending a shutdown of Richmond Highway in the Hybla Valley area that lasted about 34 hours.

While acknowledging that some business owners and community members grew frustrated by the duration of the barricade, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis described the handling of the situation as a positive reflection of how police practices have changed over the past decade.

“The reason it took so long was we wanted to get to the best possible outcome for a person involved in a mental health crisis, because that’s what this was,” Davis said at a press conference this afternoon.”There were certainly crimes committed, and we can get into that, but this was ultimately a person in a mental health crisis.”

The Fairfax County Police Department has charged Copelin with two counts of abduction, two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

She also faces multiple criminal charges in the City of Laurel, Maryland, where she lives in an apartment with a woman whom she has now been accused of abducting.

According to Davis, the saga began on Friday (March 24) when Copelin and the other woman, who hasn’t been publicly identified, left their apartment. The other woman’s mother filed a missing persons report with the Laurel Police Department on Sunday (March 26).

Around 11 a.m. on Tuesday (March 28), the Charles County Sheriff’s Office asked the FCPD to conduct a welfare check on a critical missing person in the 7200 block of Fordson Road, where officers encountered the woman who said she had been abducted.

The officers found Copelin in a 2016 Jeep SUV parked in the 7300 block of Richmond Highway, but when they approached the vehicle, she took off, leading to “a very brief, low-speed pursuit,” Davis said.

Coming to a stop on a service road for Richmond Highway and Lockheed Blvd, Copelin then took out a handgun and put it to her head, according to police.

Davis said the officers reacted appropriately by backing off once they saw the gun and calling in the department’s SWAT team. A roughly 1-mile stretch of Richmond Highway was closed between Lockheed Blvd and Boswell Avenue, as special operations officers, crisis negotiators and mental health clinicians arrived on the scene. Read More

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Body camera footage shows first responders providing medical aid to Timothy McCree Johnson after he was shot by police on Feb. 22 outside Tysons Corner Center (via FCPD)

(Updated at 6:15 p.m.) The Fairfax County police officer who allegedly fired the gunshot that killed Timothy McCree Johnson outside Tysons Corner Center last month will be fired, Chief Kevin Davis announced this afternoon (Thursday).

Davis didn’t identify the officer removed from duty, but the Washington Post reports that Sgt. Wesley Shifflett, a seven-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department, is believed to have fired the fatal shots.

The announcement was made at a 1 p.m. press conference, where the FCPD publicly released surveillance and body camera footage of the Feb. 22 encounter, which began with Johnson allegedly shoplifting a pair of sunglasses from Nordstrom and evolved into an extended foot chase.

“As a parent, my heart is still broken,” Melissa Johnson, Timothy’s mother, said. “I feel like I can just breathe a little bit lighter after hearing the announcement today, but we’re still waiting to see exactly what’s going to happen.”

The second officer involved — previously identified as eight-year veteran James Sadler — has been kept on modified restricted duty as a criminal investigation into the shooting continues.

Carl Crews, a lawyer representing the Johnson family, called Shifflett’s firing an “appropriate” move for an apparent violation of the FCPD’s use-of-force policy.

“But we’re not satisfied,” Crews told FFXnow. “The process needs to continue. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office needs to indict. There needs to be a charge against the officer, because a life was taken wrongly.”

The FCPD policy permits the use of deadly force against someone who’s fleeing if they’re suspected of committing a felony and their escape could pose a “significant threat” to others.

It’s unclear exactly where Johnson was in relation to the pursuing officers from the over eight-minute video compilation that the FCPD released. Shifflett can be heard saying that Johnson is going into the woods and yelling “get on the ground.”

He then appears to trip on the underbrush and says “Stop reaching.” The body camera’s lens gets briefly covered up as Shifflett reports “shots fired,” though the video needs to be slowed down and digitally enhanced to hear the three “pops” of gunshots.

Johnson did not have a weapon.

Police have confirmed that both Shifflett and Sadler fired their weapons, which means they both need to be held accountable, Crews argues.

“If [the other officer] was involved in the shooting, firing his weapon…he also violated the Fairfax County police officer policy for the use of deadly force, so he should be fired as well,” Crews said.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay confirmed that a notice of separation was served to one of the officers involved, expressing support for Davis’s decision in a lengthy statement that called the released video “disturbing.” Read More

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Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis addresses police shooting at Tysons Corner Center (via FCPD/Facebook)

(Updated at 10 a.m. on 2/28/2023) The fatal police shooting of a man accused of shoplifting sunglasses at Tysons Corner Center last week has local civil rights groups questioning the Fairfax County Police Department’s commitment to enforcing its own policies.

The Fairfax County NAACP wants “an independent, transparent and comprehensive investigation” into the death of D.C. resident Timothy McCree Johnson, who was shot by officers on Wednesday (Feb. 22) during a foot chase that extended a quarter-mile from the Nordstrom where he allegedly stole a pair of designer sunglasses.

In a statement released this morning, the organization says the information shared so far about the incident suggests the shooting was unwarranted based on the FCPD’s own use-of-force policy.

“The tragic killing of Mr. Johnson reminds us once again how unjust America’s policing truly is,” Fairfax County NAACP President Michelle Leete said. “The facts as we know them signal that the officers’ actions were entirely out of step with FCPD’s Use of Force policy.”

The FCPD major crimes bureau is conducting a criminal investigation into incident, while the internal affairs bureau is tasked with leading an administrative investigation, which will be reviewed by the county’s independent police auditor.

The NAACP has set up a Gofundme to help Johnson’s family with funeral expenses.

Effective as of Aug. 12, 2022, FCPD’s policy says deadly force “shall not be used to apprehend a fleeing misdemeanant (unless they pose an imminent threat of serious physical harm or death to the officer or others).”

Notably, the parenthetical is a revision from the prior use-of-force policy that was in place in 2021.

It allows deadly force to be used to apprehend a fleeing person if certain conditions are met:

  1. The officer has probable cause to believe that the individual committed a felony involving violence, and
  2. All other means to effect an arrest have been exhausted, and
  3. The felon’s escape poses a significant threat of serious injury or death to the officer or others.

(Correction: This article previously cited the FCPD’s 2021 use-of-force policy as the current one but has now been corrected to reflect the most recent update.)

“Suspicion of stealing a few pairs of sunglasses without the use or possession of a weapon do not satisfy any — much less all — of [the policy’s] requirements,” the NAACP said. “Whether or not Mr. Johnson was guilty of a crime, he had the right to due process, and for the sanctity of his life to be respected by police officers to the maximum extent possible.”

The NAACP says the police department should release “unedited camera footage” of the Tysons incident, a medical examiner’s report, and the officers’ identities and complaint histories.

FCPD policies dictate that the names of officers involved in a shooting be made public within 10 days and that body-worn camera footage be released within 30 days. Read More

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