Shootings Prompt Security Review
Sunday, June 4, 2006
Fairfax County has launched a security review of all its police, fire and sheriff's buildings, a process that will try to balance safety for employees with continued access for the public, after the fatal shootings of two police officers outside the Sully District station.
In the May 8 shootings, an 18-year-old Centreville man, Michael W. Kennedy, drove a stolen minivan unimpeded into the back parking lot of the Sully station in Chantilly. Kennedy then stepped out of the van and opened fire with an assault rifle and a hunting rifle, fatally wounding Detective Vicky O. Armel and Officer Michael E. Garbarino before other officers shot and killed Kennedy.
A gate that should have kept Sully's back parking lot closed to all but police vehicles was not working properly the day of the shootings, allowing Kennedy to drive into the lot. Some officers said the gate malfunctioned routinely. Three days after the shooting, the county formed the Public Safety Facilities Security Assessment Committee.
The committee is chaired by Robert A. Stalzer, the deputy county executive. More than two dozen people from several county agencies -- public works, management and budget, risk management, emergency management and communications -- have begun looking at ways to make the buildings safer, Stalzer said.
"The first thing we have done is have a general discussion of issues," he said but declined to be more specific. "Obviously, the events at Sully precipitated that discussion."
The committee established short-, medium- and long-range deadlines for recommendations to improve security at the eight police district stations, the 39 fire stations and the county courthouse complex. Stalzer said that some of the work focused on the police stations has been completed and that longer-term looks at policy and operational issues should be finished by the middle of next month.
One concern for the committee is that many of the police stations, including the Sully station, also include governmental offices, such as those for the district's supervisors. Many public meetings are held there on nights and weekends.
Regarding the police facilities, Stalzer said: "One of the things that everybody acknowledges is they're not designed, nor will they be designed, as fortresses. That's not our intention."
Stalzer said the government center buildings can be made more secure through improvements in design, management and maintenance and by making members of the public aware that they might not have quite as much freedom in the buildings as they once did.
"I think there've been a number of good suggestions made," Stalzer said, "that will ultimately improve the security of our facilities, not only [in] public safety but countywide."
Police officials declined to comment on the security studies, deferring to Stalzer.
Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said the board has sought for a decade to ban weapons from government facilities but has been rebuffed by the General Assembly, except in courts and school buildings.
"I think that's a right we ought to have," Connolly said. "I'm not saying it would have prevented the tragedy of May 8, but it might prevent future tragedies." He said the security assessment is "an ongoing effort. If there are other measures we can take, we will."
Connolly said the gate to the back parking lot at the Sully station "has never worked properly" from the time the county moved into the new station in 2004.
"There were maintenance issues associated with that gate," Stalzer said, noting that it could be pulled open and shut by hand but did not work mechanically May 8. It was fixed shortly after the shootings.
"It did break down," county spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said. "When it was broken, it would get fixed. And it would get fixed again." She said the gate had last worked March 22, but she could not tell the extent of the work done. Fitzgerald pointed out that the gate was in place only to protect vehicles behind the station.
Stalzer said, "It's hard to speculate what may or may not have happened differently" if the gate had been operational May 8. A number of county and police officials have noted that Kennedy, in a white minivan, could have followed an officer through the working gate by appearing to be in a maintenance vehicle or even rammed through the gate. Kennedy also could have parked in the ungated front parking lot and opened fire at the front door, where officers and citizens move freely, creating more casualties, officials said.