Richard King; Steady Fairfax Police Chief, Interim Executive

Richard A. King joined the Fairfax police in 1955 and served as acting county executive in the early 1990s.
Richard A. King joined the Fairfax police in 1955 and served as acting county executive in the early 1990s. (1990 Photo By Mary Lou Foy -- The Washington Post)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Richard A. King, 75, the "just-the-facts" police chief of Fairfax County who filled in as acting county executive for almost two years in the early 1990s, died Sept. 17 at his home in Alexandria. He had Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. King, bald and bespectacled, was cool and calm, "wiser than a tree full of owls," said former county executive J. Hamilton Lambert, who was his friend for more than 40 years. Reporters described him over the years as someone with the personality of Sgt. Joe Friday of the 1960s-era police show "Dragnet," a straight arrow who preferred to leave politics to others.

"He had a way about him that's very, very rare in human beings," Lambert said. "To be under all that stress and still maintain an even keel. . . . He was able to talk to the governor in the morning and janitor at night and treat both of them the same."

Mr. King joined the Fairfax police department in 1955 and rose to deputy chief in 1971 and chief in 1975. In 1981, he became the county's first deputy county executive for public safety. He served as police chief and county executive during a tumultuous period in the county's history.

Hurricane Agnes dumped 14 inches of rain in three days in June 1972, causing at least five deaths. Riots plagued the District's Lorton prison, in southern Fairfax. Female officers filed an unprecedented number of complaints about sexual harassment, and black officers protested discrimination in the system. The county's emergency call center was overwhelmed with calls. Citizens filed a record number of complaints about police misconduct.

Mr. King was credited with modernizing the police force and restoring its reputation at a time when state authorities were investigating alleged misconduct. He created a minority hiring program, despite resistance from the Board of Supervisors, and was instrumental in introducing computerized record-keeping and dispatching. He instituted police foot patrols in 1979 and launched Neighborhood Watch programs. And he helped bring the police, fire and emergency services departments into one public safety division.

In 1990, Mr. King was appointed county executive after Lambert's resignation. His job was to keep the county operating while board members searched for a permanent executive, but his 20-month term coincided with a severe budget crisis, which required cuts in the county's services over two budget cycles.

Mr. King shouldered his share of controversies. Some criticized him as police chief for thwarting a community effort to set up tougher police review procedures; instead, he created citizen advisory commissions in each of the county's seven police districts. Others felt he didn't move quickly enough to address complaints of racism and sexism. Under his oversight as acting county executive, the police and fire departments escaped the worst budget cuts, some claimed.

Nevertheless, Mr. King had the confidence of his superiors and his colleagues, who publicly defended him against partisan attacks. He worked as both executive and deputy executive for 20 months, which required long night and weekend hours, without vacation, they noted.

"Fairfax County owes a debt of gratitude to Dick King," then-county board Chairman Thomas M. Davis III said at the time of Mr. King's 1994 retirement. "He is a man who never asked for anything from the county. He just gave it his best."

The building containing the Fairfax County Emergency Operations Center was named in his honor.

Born in Highland Park, Mich., Mr. King attended the elite Henry Ford Trade School in Detroit until his family moved to Richwood, W.Va. He moved to Fairfax in 1948 and served in the Army from 1950 to 1953.

He graduated from the FBI National Academy, the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville and the National Executive Institute.

He enjoyed playing golf and was a member of the J.E.B. Stuart High School athletic boosters club. He and his wife were volunteers for Meals on Wheels in Alexandria for several years. He was also a volunteer member of the Franconia and Baileys Crossroads fire departments and a member of the Springfield Lions Club.

He was elected president of the FBI National Academy Associates for Virginia by fellow officers and was first vice president of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

Survivors include his wife of 48 years, Roberta King of Alexandria; a son, Edward King of Falling Waters, W.Va.; a sister, Patricia Sidelinker of Dumfries; and two grandchildren.

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