Balanced approach in police reform needed

June 1, 2023

Fairfax County Times

By Richard H. Hronik III

Potential impacts of the Fairfax County Police Department reforms proposed by the Police Reform Matrix Working Group are still unknown more than two weeks after they were brought to the Board of Supervisors.

Matrix Working Group members Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner and Vernon Walton brought the proposal to the Board at the Safety and Security Committee meeting last month.

“We should always be looking to improve our police department,” said Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity. “That should be an ongoing process. But it needs to be done in a balanced way.”

At the committee meeting, Herrity voiced a need for a more balanced approach to the proposal process. Specifically, he called for additional community feedback on the proposals. Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw echoed this sentiment.

“I represent almost 130,000 people,” said Walkinshaw. “They haven’t had the opportunity to weigh in on the Matrix recommendations yet. And for me, at some point, that’s a very necessary step in the process.”

Herrity also highlighted the need for feedback from FCPD on the proposals and called into question the composition of the Matrix working group.

“To take a group of people who have been long-standing critics of the police department, except for one gentleman, and have them decide what’s going to happen with our police department is not the right approach in my book,” said Herrity. “My issue was the lack of balance in this process that we did to determine what the Chief needs to respond to. That panel was not reflective of our community in terms of balance. There was no one that could really explain the impact of the police reform on the department and the officers. That’s really what was missing.”

The working group’s proposed reforms, as brought to the Board, are categorized into eight areas for reform. These are rethinking policing, use of force and accountability, independent oversight, community engagement, and participation, transparency, data reporting and analysis, police officer excellence, specialized police units, and monitoring and evaluating program progress.

FCPD Chief Kevin Davis was unable to provide insight into the potential impacts of the proposals but provided a statement on the issue.

“The FCPD remains proud of our progress and many improvements over the last several years,” said Davis. “The list is a long one. Our county government structure includes an Independent Police Auditor, an Executive Director of the Police Civilian Review Panel, and a Police Civilian Review Panel (PCRP). Since the inception of the PRCP six years ago, the panel has disagreed with the FCPD on one singular occasion. The decision to alter or expand the powers of the PCRP is under the purview of the Board of Supervisors. In the meantime, we remain committed to creating and adopting proven industry practices that make Fairfax County safer and maintain our exceptional relationship with our community.”

Davis will review the proposed reforms before they are enacted or denied.