Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Letter: Time to Get Serious About Police Reform and Oversight, John Lovaas, Reston Patch, March 2, 2015

The following is re-printed from Reston Patch with permission of the author. 

Finally the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has taken the first step toward reining in the Fairfax County Police Department, a heavily armed force which in matters of life and death has been accountable to no one but themselves. In the 75 years since the Board created its Police Department, not one officer has been charged with wrongdoing in killing an unarmed civilian.

But, there have been many killings of unarmed civilians, including ones under questionable circumstances—a half dozen of the latter in the last 10 years alone. (To see a rare, and creative, report on such a killing, google “Killing of Salvatore Culosi—Report to the Community by [then] Police Chief David Rohrer”.)

But, it has taken the public uproar over the shooting death of unarmed John Geer by an officer in front of several witnesses (including civilians this time) and seventeen months of FCPD stonewalling the public, the Commonwealth Attorney, and the Department of Justice to sufficiently embarrass Chairman Sharon Bulova and nine District Supervisors into their first tentative action.

Before you conclude that Mr. Geer did not die in vain, however, we should watch closely and verify that the historically non-supervising Supervisors in fact effect genuine reform, ending the impunity FC Police have so long enjoyed. Thus far, the Board’s action consists only of an announcement of INTENT to form an Ad Hoc Commission to study FCPD operations as manifest in the Geer case.

Chairman Bulova and the Supervisors have yet to reveal the scope of work for the consultant charged with forming and, presumably, heading the Ad Hoc Commission.

After all, it is this body that ultimately will recommend the measures needed to bring transparency and accountability to the FCPD. It would help if Chairman Bulova introduced her consultant to the community, revealed the content of his contract and the Board’s charge to the Commission, and revealed how its members are selected and indeed who they are.

The Supervisors need to understand that their dereliction of police oversight duty has eroded public confidence to the point where it rivals that accorded to the U.S. Congress. The Ad Hoc Commission is potentially key to restoring some of the lost trust.

The Commission should shape not only critically needed reform of the FCPD, but also the civilian oversight function of the Board itself, and indeed the community, which in the future must have an independent oversight role investigating complaints involving police use of force, especially lethal force.

Let’s see if the Supervisors are up to the job, notably in an election year when they often look to the cops for union endorsements, campaign cash, and campaign labor.

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