Fairfax County police, stung by recent criticism that its officers have used excessive force, released a survey yesterday showing that county residents who have dealt with the department overwhelmingly support it.
Only 6.3 percent of the residents responding to a survey said they had a "negative impression" of the force -- a finding that Chief Richard A. King said refutes the image some people have of the department.
"We believe this indicates that the citizens who do have a gripe against the department are very few in number," King said, "and that the complaints that have occurred have been inflated."
The problem that King said emerged most frequently in the survey is that officers often fail to inform the victims of crimes of actions police have taken as a result of their complaint. King said he has directed the 705 officers on the force to make certain they inform residents of the status of their investigations.
Bob Angrisani, a spokesman for the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Gaithersburg, said surveys similar to the Fairfax one "are quite common on a national basis," but that few of the surveys he had seen were as positive toward police as the one King released yesterday.
Fairfax police spokesman said their survey was not geared to eliciting only favorable reactions. "We wanted a formalized survey that would let the public take its shots," said Deputy Chief Carroll D. Buracker.
The respondents were drawn from a random sampling of residents who had had dealings with the force earlier this year, the chief said. About 30 percent of the 1,516 mailed questionnaires were returned to the department, King said.
One typical problem in mail questionnaires is that people who have strong feelings or a record of civic awareness are more likely to respond, making the results not truly representative of the public at large.
Spokesmen for the police force said the survey was accurate to within 5 percentage points and that the opinions about the force did not vary according to the crime that the respondents had reported.
King said the public was overwhelming in its desire to see the force pay more attention to problems involving crime rather than traffic enforcement. The force has already dropped the number of traffic citations it writes by 34 percent this year, and now only uses radar "on request" or in areas with persistent traffic problems he said.
The Fairfax force has been criticized in recent months by some civic groups and politicians for what has been called excessive force in making arrests.
Last week a Fairfax judge freed members of a Groveton family from charges growing out of a scuffle with two officers, saying that the officers had no reason for the first arrest in the case.