Fairfax County police Chief David M. Rohrer, whose eight years as head Fairfax cop are the third-longest in department history, is moving over to the county government center next month to become a deputy county executive for public safety. It’s a job that was created for him, and would seem perfect for his skills and experience, though it was announced on a day when an apparent quadruple murder-suicide was discovered in the Herndon area, so it flew a bit under the radar.
Rohrer isn’t a flamboyant personality and largely avoids the media so he isn’t widely known, although he runs by far the largest local police department in Virginia with nearly 1,400 officers. He has been criticized internally for taking a long time to make decisions — his inbox is called “The Black Hole” — which is because he takes the time to think things through.
But he is an extremely hard worker and has endeared himself to a large number of regular citizens, including some who might have strong reasons to dislike him, by dint of his willingness to show up everywhere, listen to the criticism of his department and defend it vigorously.
He does have a number of accomplishments under his belt, and if he succeeds in getting a new police and fire headquarters built, it will probably be named after him. The Fairfax board has never gone outside the department to hire a new chief, but this time there are at least two former deputy chiefs who may have a shot at taking Rohrer’s place, in addition to several strong internal candidates.
After the jump, we’ll look at what Rohrer leaves as a legacy, and who might become the 10th chief in the department’s 72-year history.
Rohrer took over the job in July 2004 as something of a surprise pick, after Deputy Chief Suzanne Devlin had served as acting chief following the departure of Tom Manger. Rohrer was seen as more of an operations guy than politician, but he won over the Board of Supervisors and got the job.
Rohrer helped oversee the construction of a badly needed new communications center for the police and fire departments — they’d been operating out of an old elementary school in Annandale. The process began under Manger, but Rohrer completed it, and now they have a shiny new state-of-the-art facility on West Ox Road.
In a further technological update that’s all Rohrer’s, he shifted the department onto the I/LEADS system of electronic report-taking and data management. This was also badly needed for a department struggling to monitor its own activity, and after a rough start with the technology, I/LEADS is gradually working itself out in Fairfax.
In 2006, Officers Vicky Armel and Mike Garbarino were shot and killed by a mentally ill teenager in the Sully district station parking lot. Rohrer steered the department through the trauma, which intensified when Garbarino survived the attack, appeared to improve, and then died nine days later. Historically, it was the Fairfax department’s lowest moment, and Rohrer stood tall through two funerals and the anguish of losing two widely beloved officers.
Also in 2006, Fairfax Officer Deval Bullock shot and killed unarmed optometrist Salvatore Culosi. Rohrer suspended Bullock without pay for three weeks, over the objections of the police union, and met repeatedly with Culosi’s family. The Culosis now have great respect for Rohrer.
And when Officer David Scott Ziants shot and killed unarmed motorist David Masters in 2009, Rohrer fired Ziants and apologized to the Masters family. Rohrer has resisted installing a civilian oversight board for police shootings and misconduct, and the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, created after the Masters shooting, continues to press for that.
In 2008, Officer Frank Stecco drowned during a training exercise in Pohick Bay. This caused Rohrer to refocus on officer safety, assign an officer to handle safety issues exclusively and try to create a “culture of safety” within the department.
For whatever credit a police chief deserves on this issue, crime has simply plunged in Fairfax since 2004. As the population in Virginia’s largest county has steadily increased, the total number of serious crimes has gone from 19,161 in 2004 to 16,209 last year, a 15 percent drop. Rohrer, annually, refuses to take credit for that. But it’s better than a crime increase, right?
And what may wind up as Rohrer’s true legacy is a replacement for the Massey Building, the asbestos-filled, leak riddled, HVAC-challenged headquarters of the police and fire departments. His people have been working to place a new headquarters near the government center in Fair Oaks, though without the funding of a bond issue, and he should be perfectly placed in his new job to oversee that.
If the county finds the financing, groundbreaking is slotted for 2014 and occupancy for 2016. If that all happens, with Rohrer as the former police chief and current deputy county executive, the building will almost certainly be named for him.
The Board of Supervisors typically selects its chief from the three deputy chiefs. Those are currently James A. Morris, Edwin C. Roessler and Tom Ryan. All three are well known to the board for their top administrative roles through the years, though Morris and Roessler have had longer stays in the deputy chief roles and are hereby established as the frontrunners in the competition. Morris currently oversees investigations and operations, Roessler oversees patrol and Ryan is head of administration.
But two former deputy chiefs are now leading departments elsewhere. Steve Sellers left Fairfax in 2010 to run the Albemarle County department, and Maggie DeBoard took over the Herndon police chief job in March of this year, making her NoVa’s first woman chief. Both also are quite familiar to Fairfax board members, and that gives the supervisors five solid, experienced candidates at the front of the pack. Any other outside applicants, and some typically make the final round, will have a tough time squeezing past that group.
I have asked Rohrer for his own view on his accomplishments, and will post it here when he sends it along.