Fairfax County’s new police commisssion held its first meeting Monday, launching a six-month-long process to recommend changes to problems exposed by the 2013 fatal shooting of an unarmed man.
The 37-member commission crowded inside a county conference room to lay the groundwork for ways to improve police-community relations, how information is relayed to the public and other concerns raised after county police officer Adam D. Torres shot an unarmed John Geer at his Springfield doorstep.
“What this commisssion cannot be about is an investigation of a particular case, the John Geer case,” said Board of Supervisors chair Sharon Bulova, who created the commission in response to anger over how the county handled the shooting investigation. “We are not investigators.”
Commission chairman Michael Hershman said he would divide the group into subcommittees that over the next several months will review reports and meet with other members of the public to delve into specific topics.
The commission is charged with turning in a report of recommendations for police department policy changes to the county board of supervisors by Oct. 1.
“What we want as an end result is to take a police department that has a very, very good reputation, locally and internationally, and make sure it is indeed a model for public police departments around the country and around the world,” Hershman said.
From the outset, however, the group’s discussion was laced with emotion.
With about 60 people in the audience, plus another dozen watching on a closed-circuit screen inside an overflow room, the group’s members went around the table and explained what motivated them to participate. All of them emphasized the need for results.
“Let’s not build a set of non-binding recommendations for the board of supervisors who can toss them in the trash with no consequences, said Sal Culosi, whose son Sal Culosi Jr. was shot to death by a county SWAT officer in 2006. Audience members cheered that remark.
Several other members expressed the desire to form an independent citizen advisory council for police issues in the county. Others emphasized the need to address problems related to mental illness in the county, arguing for more funds for services and police training on how to deal with such cases.
“It’s not just a crisis in Fairfax County or this state, it’s a national crisis,” said Jack L. Johnson, a partner with the PricewaterhouseCoopers auditing firm.
Police officials at the table said they’re willing to listen and learn, while protecting the rights of their officers.
“We’re certainly not here with clenched fists at the table,” said Lt. Colonel Tom Ryan, a deputy chief in the county police department.