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Fairfax County Police Department officers are sworn in (via Office of Chairman Jeff McKay)

The Fairfax County Police Department is under a personnel emergency amid a staffing shortage that has continued for several months. 

In a temporary shift, police officers are transitioning to two 12.5-hour shifts and working mandatory overtime, according to the FCPD. That departs from the standard staffing model of three 11.5-hour shifts.

Additionally, patrol officers “may be required” to help other squads to maintain safe staffing levels, FCPD told FFXnow.

So far, the police department has 194 operational vacancies, but that does not account for 50 recruits currently in the police academy. That leaves 144 total vacancies.

“We have launched a multi-media recruiting campaign this summer with updates videos on our new JoinFCPD.org website,” a spokesperson said.

Some say the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has failed to provide adequate salary increases and other incentives to attract and retain the county’s police force.

While officers saw an average pay increase of nearly 8% in this fiscal year, beginning July 1, pay scale steps were frozen between fiscal years 2019 and 2021.

The salary increases that some officers received this fiscal year doesn’t make up for what was previously promised to them,” Steve Manohan, president of the county’s chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association said. “Keep in mind, there were hundreds of officers who only received a 4% cost of living increase in fiscal year 2022.”

Board Chairman Jeff McKay says the board is working with FCPD to recruit and retain officers, noting that Chief Kevin Davis has a plan to reach out across the county, region and nationwide — including non-traditional means like advertisements at movie theaters. The department has also reduced the length of its application and background information requirements in an effort to streamline the process.

All of this is done to position FCPD as an exciting and meaningful career choice for those who may have a calling for public service,” McKay wrote in a statement.

McKay says the county is looking at different ways to support officers as staffing adjustments continue.

“The Fairfax County Police Department is a top destination for anyone who wants to serve their community, and we will continue to get that message out while also exploring ways to maintain our regional competitiveness in compensation and job satisfaction,” he said. “Like with all municipalities during this pandemic era there is much work to be done, but our team–and especially our officers–are up to the task, and we are here to support them 100%.” Read More

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Fire crews are using the vacated building at Lake Anne in Reston for training purposes (courtesy Fellowship Square)

The demolition of the vacated Lake Anne Fellowship House is still several months away. 

In the interim, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department crews are using the vacated building — which previously housed more than 300 older adult residents — as a training location for local fire departments. 

The department has been using the building for aerial rescues using ladder truck and mannequins. 

 “Training in a real structure like this provides us with an amazing and very rare opportunity,” said Scott Kraut, fire captain at Firehouse 25, which is located 1820 Wiehle Avenue.

Kraut says the vacated building provides a rare opportunity for the firefighters to practice and use their skills in a residential high-rise.

The initiative began after the fire department submitted a proposal to use the building, according to a spokesperson for Lake Anne Fellowship House.

The affordable housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Development plans to redevelop the fellowship house after demolition takes place sometime next year.

Over the summer, residents of the fellowship house moved into a brand-new residence across the street, leaving behind the 1970s building that was one of the first high rises and the first affordable senior housing property in Reston.

The new Lake Anne House — located at 11444 North Shore Drive — is a $86 million project spearheaded by ECD and Fellowship Square Foundation. 

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Morning Notes

The Vienna bookstore Bards Alley celebrated its fifth anniversary this past weekend (staff photo by Pia Kramer)

GW Parkway Rehab Breaks Ground in McLean — “Top federal and local officials participated in a groundbreaking ceremony Monday morning on a $161 [million] project to upgrade the northern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.” [Patch]

W&OD Trail Detour Starts in Reston — “In preparation for the future bridge there, underground utilities along the trail on the west side of Wiehle Ave in Reston are being relocated, necessitating a detour to the gravel trail to the north. This detour will be in effect from Tues, July 19 to Fri, July 22.” [W&OD Trail/Twitter]

Plastic Bag Tax Coming to Fairfax City — “Effective Jan. 1, 2023, disposable plastic bags provided at point of sale to consumers at grocery stores, convenience stores, and drugstores in Fairfax City will be subject to a 5 cent tax. To avoid the tax, consumers can provide their own reusable shopping bags, or opt out of bags altogether.” [City of Fairfax]

NoVA Leaders Advocate for More Express Lanes — “Northern Virginia has been transformed for the last decade by Express Lanes projects and regional leaders say more of the same is needed — including over the Potomac River and into Maryland — if the metropolitan area is to continue thriving.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Wegmans Plans Hiring Event for Reston Store — “Wegmans Food Markets will be hosting a virtual hiring event Thursday to fill 100 full-time positions at its new Reston grocery store, which is set to open in early 2023…The virtual hiring event will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Thursday.” [Patch]

County Brings Public Safety Talks to Barbershops — “@fairfaxhealth along with @FairfaxCountyPD and @FairfaxCSB is hosting a series of conversations at barbershops around the county. The focus will be on community policing, substance abuse, and building trust in our community. No RSVP is required.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]

Vienna Student Wins State Tennis Title — “Unlike the previous season, Simone Bergeron was totally satisfied with her perfect campaign in girls tennis this past spring. The Madison Warhawks junior capped the 2022 season by winning the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 girls state-championship singles tournament.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Tuesday — Humid and mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 87 and low of 74. Sunrise at 6:00 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Town of Herndon police (courtesy Herndon Police Department)

The Herndon Town Council is exploring ways to improve safety and security in the town, possibly through increased police presence.

The idea, pitched by Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila at a quarterly strategy meeting late last month, could involve more foot patrols in the community, primarily an effort to curb traffic-related issues.

Del Aguila says that for a small town like Herndon, safety and security can be enhanced with visibility and is less contingent on policing and enforcing.

“The bigger question is, if this is truly a desired need for us, how many police officers would we need? What would that entail?” he said.

But it’s unclear how increased visibility would shake out in a department that is already struggling to hire police officers amid a national labor shortage.

Councilmember Signe Friedrichs said a “culture of impunity” is particularly problematic on the town’s roads, pointing to “drag racing along H-mart.”

The town is limited in its ability to install red light cameras and other similar traffic-calming methods by statute, according to town staff.

In light of the town’s limitations, Councilmember Sean Regan said Herndon could also explore installing more devices that indicate the vehicle’s speed.

According to del Aguila and other council members, part of the challenge to making law enforcement approachable is that the police officers are interacting with a growing Spanish-speaking population, which can lead to barriers born out of communication gaps.

Police Chief Maggie DeBoard said she is aware of the issue and recently hired Hispanic police officers. The department also encourages officers to undergo language training.

Overall, Mayor Sheila Olem said the town’s police officers are generally very “well-received” in the community.

The Town Council’s discussion will be followed by a staff analysis looking at next steps, including how many police officers would be needed to expand the department’s presence and what such an initiative would entail.

The council discussed other priorities at the quarterly meeting, including the possibility of making some motor vehicle services more permanent.

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Two Fairfax County Police Department cars are shown parked outside an apartment complex in McNair (staff photo by David Taube)

Vehicle pursuits have come to a near halt amid new rules to avoid overly aggressive policing that can endanger people and communities.

The Fairfax County Police Department recently reported that vehicle pursuits went from above 100 per year in 2019-2021 to one per month as of May 17.

Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said the data debunks the notion that aggressive policing leads to crime reduction. Police said none of those pursuits involved injuries.

During a public safety committee meeting for the Board of Supervisors on May 17, police also listed stats showing a decline in use of force complaints, from 19 in 2019 to 11 in 2020 and five in 2021. A presentation suggested no such complaints occurred this year at the time of the presentation.

The declines come as the department’s new police chief, Kevin Davis, started the position May 3, 2021, and the county works to address problems with policing. A University of Texas at San Antonio study showed that Fairfax County police used high levels of force at twice the rate against Black people than compared to white people.

But the public safety committee meeting providing no information about whether use of force incidents are still occurring disproportionately based on race. The use of force study spanned from 2016 through 2018.

A use of force committee, however, has helped address whether 59 recommendations from the study should be implemented, and the department has carried out 37 changes and has another 10 in the process of implementation, public safety committee chair and Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said.

“This member of the Board of Supervisors is extraordinarily delighted and pleased by your success with regard to the recommendations,” he said. “The percentage that you’ve been able to achieve within the timeline that you’ve been given is impressive.”

Other department reforms have included providing every officer who is at the rank of second lieutenant or below with a Taser, a shift from last year when they would only carry one when the tools were available, Davis said.

The department also began a pilot project to use BolaWrap, a device about the size of a smartphone that deploys a cord around a person for restraint. Since the beginning in April, FCPD has used it three times as of May 17.

Further details on those incidents and future plans after the pilot weren’t immediately available.

“It’s the latest greatest iteration of how we can safely take people into custody,” Davis said. “It’s a restraint tool.”

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Members of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action join the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to designate June 3 as Gun Violence Awareness Day (via Fairfax County/Flickr)

(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) A Fairfax County School Board member plans to advocate for adding security vestibules at schools in the wake of the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in nearly a decade.

Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the board, will introduce a motion at a meeting tomorrow (Thursday) requesting that Fairfax County Public Schools develop a plan to fund and install vestibules at all facilities, she said in social media posts last night (Tuesday).

Meren says she previously worked on the proposal when she joined the school board in 2020 to provide an additional layer of security on top of the intercom that most FCPS facilities use to grant entry.

“Security vestibules are a strategy for preventing intruders from gaining access to schools,” Meren told FFXnow by email. “A security vestibule requires visitors to be verified by staff in a secured sign-in area, before doors are electronically opened that grant the visitor access to the building.”

According to Meren, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand has estimated it would take $15 million to install the enclosures and related electronic systems in facilities that don’t already have them.

Meren intends to put forward the motion as part of the school board’s scheduled vote to approve the fiscal year 2023 budget. She suggests the money could come from county funds left over from this current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, as well as state and federal funds that FCPS gets for security upgrades.

“This work is long over due,” Meren wrote. “Though yet again, public schools are responsible for addressing and funding responses to a public health crisis — gun violence is a public health crisis — while our mission is to educate children for a successful future.”

Meren was one of several Fairfax County elected officials to make public statements in response to yesterday’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old killed 19 children and two teachers.

The flags outside the Fairfax County Government Center have been lowered to half-staff and will remain there until sunset on Saturday (May 28).

The shooting reportedly started around 11:32 a.m. CDT — just two hours after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to designate June 3 as Gun Violence Awareness Day. The school board is set to take the same action when it meets tomorrow.

“As a parent, I am heartbroken for the families in grief tonight and angry that, as a nation, we have not made much progress protecting innocent people, most especially children,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “Our children deserve a world that puts their health and wellbeing at the forefront.” Read More

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A Fairfax County Fire and Rescue worker accepts change for the department’s annual “Fill the Boot” campaign (via FCFRD)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed county staff yesterday (Tuesday) to study potential safety risks when people ask for help on street medians, following concerns from the public.

A memo will be delivered to the board by July 31 from a group of county staff, including representatives from the Fairfax County Police Department, the county’s transportation department, the Office of the County Attorney, and the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.

Staff will include data-driven analyses about “whether or not there is a specific safety risk related to or stemming from panhandling” and recommend solutions if necessary, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said during a board meeting yesterday.

In a newsletter, McKay reiterated the county’s advice against donating to individual recipients, instead suggesting people give money to nonprofits that provide support services for those individuals.

During the board meeting, McKay added that passersby could also share their generosity in other ways to help people.

“We know that many of the people who are panhandling are not homeless individuals but rather are preying on the extraordinary generosity of our residents in Fairfax County,” McKay said.

He further recommended that motorists give people a piece of paper that lists available resources, such as social service centers.

“Small gifts of cash do not solve the issue of panhandling, but further exacerbate the matter,” McKay said in the newsletter.

McKay acknowledged that courts have ruled in favor of people asking for money on public property due to the First Amendment and that free speech must be protected. But he says he’s increasingly concerned about safety for all.

The move led to quarreling between McKay and Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who said he’s been trying to get the board to address the issue for years.

In a newsletter, Herrity said county staff previously collected data and identified over 40 panhandling spots “where there is a public safety issue.”

Led by Herrity and then-Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, the county board directed staff to draft an ordinance disincentivizing panhandling in 2019. Later that year, the board considered putting up anti-panhandling signs, but that effort never came to fruition.

“For us to move forward so far only to start back at square one is a disservice to our residents and to every motorist and panhandler whose life is in danger in our medians each day we delay,” Herrity said in a statement. “We live in an increasingly urban suburb with very busy intersections where it isn’t safe for anyone to be interacting with motorists.”

Despite that statement, Herrity said he is fine with public safety groups using medians and intersections to conduct donations, as in the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s “Fill the Boot” campaigns, which support the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Officials noted that private property owners, such as malls, can restrict people from asking for donations.

Photo via Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department

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(Updated at 12:05 p.m. on 9/30/2021) Fairfax County will resume an effort today (Wednesday) to avoid arresting people in mental health crises by using behavioral health experts in the hopes of eventually putting the service into effect 24/7.

Pairing a crisis intervention specialist with specially trained police officers, the “co-responder” teams address 911 calls related to behavioral health issues for the resumed service, a micropilot program that’s expected to be in place three days a week.

“Over time, we’re going to have a better sense of handling these types of calls, and we might get to a place where we don’t have to have both behavioral health and police at the same time,” said Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee.

The county initially tested the approach for over a month this past March with teams working in eight-hour shifts Wednesdays through Fridays, ultimately diverting 40% of incidents from potential arrest or hospitalization.

One such case involved a family situation between siblings, where an autistic man assaulted his adult sister, said Abbey May, emergency and crisis services director for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB), which provides multiple mobile emergency response services, among other health supports.

“She had locked herself in the bathroom and reported her brother had slipped a knife under the door to intimidate her,” May said.

A co-responder team gathered critical information from talking to the woman, asking what calms her brother down and what makes him upset. The responders explained that they were there to help.

“They were able to successfully de-escalate the situation without the use of force, incarceration, or hospitalization,” May told the Board of Supervisors yesterday (Tuesday) at its public safety committee meeting.

To support the resumed micropilot program, the CSB is reallocating one of its two Mobile Crisis Units. The pairings with police will continue on a limited basis, and it’s unclear how long the initiative will last this time, but it could serve as a bridge to an expanded service, said Lisa Potter, director of the county’s Diversion First program.

The county’s effort to reform how it responds to certain 911 calls comes after Virginia adopted a law last year creating a Marcus Alert system.

Named after high school biology teacher Marcus-David Peters, who was killed by a police officer while experiencing a mental health crisis in 2018, the statewide system is designed to ensure behavioral health experts are involved in emergency responses related to mental health and substance use issues.

According to Lauren Cunningham, communications director for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, the law requires every local CSB to establish either a mobile crisis team or a community care team by July 1, 2026, though as the state’s most populous locality, Fairfax County must have its program set up by July 1, 2023.

As defined by the bill, a mobile crisis team can consist of one or more qualified or licensed mental health professionals, including peer recovery specialists and family support partner, but it explicitly does not involve law enforcement, Cunningham says.

Community care teams, on the other hand, are composed of mental health service providers and can include law enforcement officers. A co-responder model like the one Fairfax County is developing would fall under this approach.

Fairfax County could use its American Rescue Plan Act money to fund an expansion of the micropilot. County leaders have identified a multi-pronged approach that includes having an officer and crisis intervention specialist travel and respond together in teams that would each cover two police districts.

The $4 million ARPA-funded proposal would create four co-responder teams in the field and cover 26 positions — which would include 10 crisis intervention specialists, eight police officers, and other staff — as well as vehicles and other equipment.

While other mental health efforts help divert unnecessary arrests and jailing, the co-responder approach provides real-time 911 responses, May said. Diversion First leaders have pressed to eventually make the effort available around the clock.

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