The challenge of opening Fairfax County's first new police station in 27 years might seem overwhelming. Police Capt. Bill Gulsby, though, has it under control. In this high-tech age, Gulsby keeps a low-tech mini-notebook stuffed in his right breast pocket.
Anytime an issue arises or an idea occurs to Gulsby, he jots it down: "Who's got keys?" "Where will the CADs [special police terminals] be placed in the report room?"
Gulsby, 44, was the first officer assigned to the new Sully District station and will be its first commander when it officially launches at 3 a.m. on May 3, a month from today. He appears comfortable overseeing the final preparations for the $7.5 million station on Stonecroft Boulevard, just off Route 28, and is more eager to start policing in the newly created western Fairfax police district than worried about the hurdles he faces in the final weeks before the Sully District launches.
"I'm just a small part of a group effort to get this place up and running," Gulsby said as he conducted a recent tour through the station, which was only partially furnished and equipped. "By no means should I take credit if everything's fine, but I'll take responsibility if it isn't."
The need for an eighth police district in Fairfax had been anticipated as early as the 1980s, but the population explosion in the county during the 1990s accelerated the urgency.
For years, the Mount Vernon and Mason police districts, which included the densely populated neighborhoods along Route 1 and the Annandale area, respectively, were the county's busiest in calls for service. But the Fair Oaks District, which covers the entire western chunk of Fairfax south of Reston, has jumped to the top in recent years, Chief J. Thomas Manger said. Fair Oaks, which during the 1980s reported few serious crimes, turned around in the 1990s, reporting among the highest numbers of serious crimes in the county, according to police statistics.
While the population of the county as a whole grew 20 percent between 1992 and 2002, police said, the number of people in the Fair Oaks district went up 40 percent, or 50,000 residents. During the same period, calls for service in Fair Oaks shot up 44 percent.
"We really needed to divide up that workload," Manger said.
In addition, Manger's emphasis on community policing means spending more time patrolling the streets and meeting with citizens instead of simply reacting to calls. "The size of that [Fair Oaks] district made it difficult to have the relationships we wanted to have with people," the chief said.
County voters approved a bond proposal in November 1998 to finance the Sully station, and planning began not long after.
The Fair Oaks police district essentially has been sliced in half to create the Sully District. The boundaries generally are Route 50 to the north; the Loudoun County line to the west; the Prince William County line to the south; and Stringfellow Road, Braddock Road, Route 123 and Wolf Run Shoals Road to the east.
To create the boundaries of the new district, Gulsby said, police officials examined subcensus tracts, talked to officers, used computer analyses, looked at statistics, met with the community "and put it all in a blender."
As part of the police redistricting, much of the Oakton area now served by the Reston station will be reassigned to Fair Oaks, and a section of Annandale between Little River Turnpike and Braddock Road will move from the Mason to the Franconia district.
Gulsby said the Sully station will initially have about 83 officers, about the same as the Fair Oaks station. No officers were hired recently for Sully, but federal grants encouraging local governments to put more officers on the streets have allowed Fairfax to hire recruits for the last five years with the Sully station in mind.
Officers already familiar with Sully, either from working Fair Oaks or living near there, will be assigned to the district along with recruits, Gulsby said, which helps maintain some historical knowledge of troublemakers as well as community leaders in the district. Sully will be subdivided into service and patrol areas. Police hope to keep an officer in the same patrol area for the same shift most days to increase familiarity between the police and the neighborhoods.
Renovations also are nearly complete at police stations in the West Springfield and Mount Vernon districts. The West Springfield station has increased space, added some technological advances and improved security, said Lt. Debi Burnett, adding that police hope to move in May 15.
In Mount Vernon, the station has expanded its community meeting space, the detective section and the holding cell area while adding police supervisors' offices and a conference room as well as increasing computer access for officers, Lt. Joe Hill said. Mount Vernon officers hope to move in within the next 30 days.
The modestly designed Sully station does not flaunt a host of high-tech features, though there are ample outlets for high-speed Internet connections crucial to modern police work. Instead, the emphasis is on space. Sully District Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R), who will also be moving his offices and staff into the station, said the county already owned the land so it could afford to provide plenty of parking (246 spaces, many for commuters) and community meeting space (the station has 32,300 square feet).
Frey said the county Agency on Aging frequently will occupy meeting space in the building for computer classes and senior fitness and nutrition programs. The county recreation department also will be using the building, and the Sully District's Teen Club could wind up there, too. The Sully magisterial district, which Frey represents, includes Centreville, Clifton, Chantilly and Oakton.
For many Sully residents, "you're going to see double the number of [police] officers," Frey said. "You'll see an increased presence. And with smaller patrol areas, you'll have more consistency, see the same officers, the same bike officers."
Jim Hart, a former president of the Western Fairfax County Citizens Association, said the convenience of having a station much closer than the Fair Oaks station on Route 50 would be greatly appreciated by residents, as would the availability of new, spacious meeting rooms. Some homeowners associations have no place of their own to gather, shifting some meetings to the county Government Center, Hart said.
For Sully police officers, computer access for writing reports and reading e-mail will be greatly improved, Gulsby said. Women's locker rooms will be of ample size, a first for a Fairfax police station, and criminal investigators and bike officers will have more room to work than at other stations. Eight holding cells will handle not only Sully's prisoners but also any overflow from elsewhere. Room also is available for video appearances before magistrates. There's even a room for children to wait while adults are in meetings.
Of particular concern to county police officials in planning the Sully station has been the need for a diverse staff, Gulsby said. The Sully and Centreville areas have growing numbers of Hispanic and Asian residents, and police wanted to make sure they had officers who could understand the challenges and issues that presents.
Gulsby said his crew is racially diverse and has a mix of young and older officers, some who have worked the area for years and some who have never been there before.
As he was explaining this, an idea occurred to Gulsby. Maybe he should suggest to the newer officers that they begin studying the district before they start patrolling there.
He pulled the mini-notebook from his pocket and wrote it down.