Fairfax County executive Edward J. Long tried to block the appointment of a longtime community activist to a newly formed police commission out of concern that he would push to establish a permanent civilian review board, internal county e-mails show.
Long sought to persuade Sharon Bulova, chairwoman of the County Board of Supervisors, not to place Nicholas Beltrante on the commission, which was created in response to controversy surrounding the 2013 fatal shooting of John Geer, an unarmed man.
“You know he will use the group to push for the police review board and I [am] not sure you really want to give him this platform,” Long wrote to Bulova in a Feb. 20 e-mail concerning Beltrante.
Bulova responded: “Right! However, I’m not sure we can avoid having him on the commission.”
The e-mails were among nearly 500 that were obtained by the Northern Virginia Cop Block community group through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with The Washington Post.
Beltrante, who heads the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability and was ultimately added to the commission, said the exchange illustrates why he does not think his views will be taken seriously.
“They have allowed the police to police the police,” he said of the county’s system of incident reviews. “This is unacceptable.”
On Tuesday, Bulova (D) said she was open to the idea of a civilian review board, which would require the approval of the entire board if the commission recommends one. Such a panel would deal with complaints about shootings, excessive force and other problems.
“I’m open-minded,” Bulova said. “I think it would be a positive opportunity to look at where models have been successful, what might or could work for Fairfax County.”
Long, in an e-mailed statement, said he considers the county’s police review system to be sufficient.
“I support an open discussion regarding a Citizens Advisory Board,” Long said. “However, our police department has longstanding support and trust within our community, and I believe we currently have fair systems for monitoring and managing issues that arise in our police department.”
Michael Hershman, who chairs the commission, said he is looking forward to a healthy debate over police procedures in the county, which could lead to recommending a citizens advisory board.
The commission is tasked with turning in a report suggesting policy changes to the Board of Supervisors by Oct. 1.
“I have studied and been involved in this topic for some time and have found that there is initially always resistance to any form of independent oversight,” Hershman said. “But once the options are reviewed, resistance tends to fade.”
The e-mails revealed some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and complaints from county employees that occurred when Bulova announced in February that she would create the police commission. Elected officials chimed in to recommend certain people to the group, and plenty of lawyers, scholars and neighborhood activists in the county volunteered themselves.
In the e-mails, several police department employees expressed frustration with the idea of a police commission. “I think I am going to be sick,” one officer wrote to two department colleague.
“Wow. This is disappointing,” wrote Lt. Col. Tom Ryan, a deputy county police chief who is now on the commission.
Sean Corcoran, a detective with Fairfax police who is also on the commission, said that citizen review boards sometimes respond to incidents in a knee-jerk fashion that doesn’t account for complicated situations and can jeopardize the rights of police officers.
“Just because I’m an employee of the government doesn’t mean I signed away my rights,” Corcoran said.
The commission is scheduled to meet next on April 27.