The Fairfax County police commission created to deal with problems exposed by the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in 2013 has added nine members, following complaints that it was too heavily dominated by people with law-enforcement backgrounds.
The commission, which now has 34 members, was established by county board of supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova (D) to address public anger over the county’s handling of the investigation into the shooting of John Geer by Fairfax police officer Adam D. Torres.
It has scheduled its first meeting for March 23 and is supposed to deliver recommendations for policy changes by October.
Chairman Michael Hershman said the commission will focus on topics including police use-of-force policies and how the department relays information to the public. He said the panel will also delve into some of the concerns about police-community relations that were reflected in nationwide protests that followed the police-involved deaths last year of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in New York City.
“I’d like to dedicate one commission meeting as an open forum for citizens to come in and express their views and feelings,” said Hershman, who is president of the Fairfax Group, a crisis management company.
“The ultimate goal is to make sure we have established trust and respect between the community and the police force and that it’s sustainable in the future.”
The commission originally included nine people with ties to local law enforcement agencies or unions, along with the president of the Fairfax Bar Association; a former deputy county attorney; a criminologist; representatives of local news organizations; and five citizen representatives, including the president of the Fairfax NAACP and the executive director of the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability.
Deputy county executive David M. Rohrer, a former Fairfax police chief, is also on the commission, though he won’t vote because he is part of the county administration, an aide to Bulova said.
Among the additions are two lawyers with civil litigation backgrounds, a professor, a consultant and five citizen representatives. The citizens include Sal Culosi, whose son was shot to death by a Fairfax police officer in 2006, and Robert Cluck, of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Former commonwealth’s attorney Robert Horan will also play a role.
Bulova said she wants as many voices as possible to be part of the conversation, including various police groups. “There will be a lot of balance and a lot of differing opinions,” Bulova said. “I’m looking forward to this being an opportunity to come together over what is not a simple issue.”
Robert Kane, the criminologist on the commission, said a broad range of perspectives is essential.
“If you put five police officers around a water cooler and ask them how to solve a crime problem, you’re likely to get answers like: conduct more corner sweeps, conduct more stops-and-frisk, establish a curfew for juveniles,” said Kane, who lives in Fairfax and is on the faculty at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
“But if you get one cop, a social worker, a teacher, a nurse, and a business owner around the same water cooler and ask them the same question, you’re likely to get an answer that addresses crime from multiple dimensions.”
Bulova said the commission should also look at how county police and sheriff’s deputies deal with people with mental illness — an issue that has drawn scrutiny in Fairfax after a mentally ill woman died in the county jail last month following the use of a Taser on her several times.
“When people wind up in our jail instead of getting treatment within the community, these are things that we absolutely need to be addressing,” Bulova said.
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who opposed the creation of the commission, said he’s worried that it will take on too many issues to get anything significant accomplished — especially with several members of the board of supervisors up for election in November.
“If you’re going to review the entire police department, you’re not going to do it in six months,” said Frey, who is not seeking reelection. “There’s no question this will become a political football.”