Although it is one of the nation's most affluent counties, Fairfax allocates less per capita to its police department than any of Washington's other suburban jurisdictions.
In Fairfax County, as in many other parts of the country, violent crime is on the rise, compounding the continuing problems of crimes against property. Although police officials and patromen contend that the country government has been supportive, they say there are not enough resources for the type of law enforcement they envision.
"When a person is a victim of a crime, he wants the officer to be concerned, but maybe you've got three other reports to write up, and all you have time for is the facts. So they're left with a bad feeling about police," said Officer Preston Blackwell.
"You like to tell the guy you're giving the speeding ticket to about the two fatals you worked there last week, but there just isn't time," said Officer Ray Clements.
Based on 1980 police budget and population figures from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Fairfax spends $22.4 million a year -- $38.19 for each of its 587,000 residents -- for law enforcement. That compares to $42.93 and $53.33 per resident in the similarly sized suburbs of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, respectively. The more densely populated suburbs of Arlington County and Alexandria spend $61.65 and $63.70 per resident.
Although Fairfax police officials suggest that important differences in budgeting policies may account for the difference, they admit that they are currently unable to conduct more "pro-active" law enforcement -- more stakeouts, increased undercover work and efforts to infiltrate various robbery, burglary and stolen-auto rings. "We'd like to start working people as opposed to always working cases. We want to be able to wake [suspected and known criminals] up and put them to bed. But now, we have to maintain a good response time for the public, and we can't draw too heavily from that to do these things," said Maj. Thad Hartman.
Arlington, Prince George's and Montgomery counties have all implemented a policy in which officers are allowed to drive police cruisers when they are off duty, provided they keep the radios on and respond to any calls when they use the cars.
It has resulted in off-duty officers taking calls that would otherwise have to be taken by the working shift, freeing on-duty officers for other assignments. In Montgomery County, for example, off-duty officers driving their own squad cars responded to 11,227 events in a typical six-month period.
Fairfax tried the same program, but found it unfeasible since there were not enough maintenance crews to handle the new vehicles, and although Fairfax police wages compare favorable with those of other jurisdictions, about half of its police officers can't afford to live there. In order to implement such a program, the officers using the cars would have to live in the country.
Officials are convinced, however, that most Fairfax citizens are pleased with their performance. "We accomplish a lot with the resources we have," Hartman said. "And we have good top-level management.