The members of the Fairfax County Police Department feel obligated to respond to The Post ariticle of April 19 ("Fairfax Police: Highest Number of Misconduct Charges in Suburbs"). We are deeply concerned about both the contents of the article and the way in which the article evolved. It is our understanding that Post reporters began interviewing citizens in the latter part of January 1981 and that their initial conclusions were returned to the reporters by Post editors for more investigation. Over a three-month period, the reporters interviewed additional people. Finally, an article was written that suggests that the Fairfax County Police Department receives more complaints of misconduct than do police departments in other suburban jurisdictions.
In using the numbers obtained to develop the derogatory headline. The Post never mentioned the criteria employed by various police agencies for recording complaints. Each agency establishes its own record-keeping and investigative process in this area, and no uniform standard for defining complaints exists. For example, the article suggests that a complaint of handcuffing in Fairfax County is also recorded in other jurisdictions as a misconduct charge. Because the article failed to examine such important distinctions as this, the public was led to believe that the criteria are the same. That's unfortunate.
If The Post will research its own files, it will find the Fairfax County Police Department was the first law enforcement agency in the metropolitan area of Washington to release statistics on complaints against employees. The department took that position in order to be completely open with the public we serve. The Post will also find that we were the first agency to develop a form on which citizens can file complaints. The purpose of this form is to afford citizens appropriate avenues for redress of grievances. To give some balance to the story, the 260,000 formalized contacts with citizens in 1980 involved the following: 20,061 criminal arrests, 57,029 traffic arrests, 190,046 requests for police service and about 50,000 verbal warnings, which are not documented. The story failed to mention that of the 140 complaints filed against officers, ranging from poor attitude to excessive force, 84 complaints were from individuals arrested for crimes. Unfortunately, a number of these people file complaints against investigators and officers in hope of seeking reduction in the charges and placing the officer on the defensive. This procedure to allow anyone to file a complaint in some respects encourages abuses of the system, but the department would rather spend time and resources to ferret out the facts than to have one citizen mistreated. We support that procedure.
The article omitted several other important facts. The Fairfax County Police Department received over 2,500 commendations from individuals and organizations last year. Interestingly, none of these is specifically quoted, organizations last year. Interestingly, none of these is specifically quoted, though verbatim allegations of improper conduct are included. Fairfax County has the highest clearance rate for serious crime in the area. The article failed to mention -- and this is a very relevant fact -- that 153 officers were injured last yuear while performing their job. A number of these officers were hospitalized with brain concussions, broken limbs or ruptured Achilles tendons in the process of subduing armed robbers, burglars, and other offenders. A number of these officers and their families were adversely affected by these injuries incurred while attempting to enforce the rule of the law and maintain public order and safety, which most of the public desires.
The members of the Fairfax County Police Department would like to comment on some of the examples mentioned in the article; unfortunately, privacy of information will not allow us to do so. But the story would certainly have had more objectivity had the reporters interviewed the victims of some of the incidents to get their side of the story. The victim is the one who requested service from the police department. Readers might then understand why the officer made the arrest. And we should emphasize that our staff and the commonwealth's attorney believe that the law should be enforced equally, regardless of social or political prominence.
We recognize the right and responsibility of the media to serve as vehicles for dissemination of accurate information to the public. Moreover, we certainly don't expect the press to serve as a public relations medium for public service agencies. But we do believe it is imperative that the media maintain responsible standards of reporting and editing and provide the public with a balanced presentation. A large number of government employees are dedicated and skilled public servants; and when they do a good job, that should be recognized also. The reporters cited the number of complaints against another police force that is roughly one-third the size of Fairfax County's. Rather than writing a story about the low number of complaints in that jurisdiction, which could be a positive story. The Post elected to write a story that reflects the negative side.