Fairfax County's decision to pull its police and sheriff's department personnel out of Northern Virginia's regional police training academy has angered many and threatened the future of the model program, according to some area officials.
The move, approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Monday, is merely a political power grab by "empire building" Fairfax County law enforcement officials, some local officials said today. Fairfax authorities argued that the decision to run their own police training academy would give them more control over training programs and save the county money.
Alexandria City Council Member Donald C. Casey said that, regardless of the motive, Fairfax County's action endangers the the future of the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy, considered a model for regional police training facilities in the state since it opened 19 years ago.
The training academy moved from Fairfax City to Arlington only two weeks ago, partly because it needed more space. With the loss of Fairfax County trainees, however, the facility will lose half of its annual participants as well as about half of its annual funding.
"That was very poor timing," charged Casey. "They must have known they were going to do this" before the move to an unused Arlington elementary school, he said.
Casey added that the move "sounds like empire-building."
But Fairfax County officials counter that it's not a question of empires, but of controls.
"If we can have the ultimate control over training, we can provide higher quality training," said Fairfax County Sheriff M. Wayne Huggins.
"I wish there had been some effort to remedy whatever problems there are," said Casey. "I don't know what problems caused Fairfax to bolt, but if the problems are real, the academy may not be worth funding."
Thomas Shaw, director of the center, said today that he was disappointed by the decision. "The regional spirit of cooperation might take a step backward," he said.
Shaw said the loss of the Fairfax County police and sheriff's departments -- the state's two largest law enforcement agencies -- may leave "some people with questions about the prestige, people who think we can't maintain the level of excellence.
"But it's not going to affect the academy in the long run," Shaw said of the academy, which now serves 18 police agencies and has an annual budget of about $700,000. The academy provides refresher courses for law officers as well as recruit training.
Virginia law requires all police agencies to participate in a certified training program. The Northern Virginia academy has been responsible for training about 2,400 law enforcement officers each year.
Even though the state provides a substantial portion of the money needed to run the academy, Shaw said the pullout by Fairfax County will mean higher bills for those jurisdictions remaining in the program.
A report by county officials stated that Fairfax, which would not begin its own training program until July 1985 under the terms of its contract with the regional academy, should save about $130,000 annually by operating its own facility. The facility will operate out of a building near the county's police firing range west of Fairfax City.
Officials say Fairfax County has outgrown the need for participating in a regional academy.
Many of the larger police departments in the state are moving away from the trend of using regional academies established a decade ago and are starting their own training programs, said Fairfax police officials.