Fairfax County Board To Scrutinize Police Data on Use-of-Force Incidents

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors wants more analysis of data that points to the disproportionate use-of-force against black individuals by county police.

Two years ago, the Fairfax County Police Department released a study that found that 40 percent of use-of-force cases in 2015 involved black individuals.

In response to the study’s release, the board directed Police Auditor Richard Schott “to review the statistical disparity between the level of African-American use-of-force incidents and the African American population in Fairfax County,” according to the county.

Completed last year, Schott’s study on the police department data didn’t satisfy the supervisors’ questions.

“The report did not yield any clear causes based upon race, but noted additional evaluation of use-of force data would be needed for the following years,” Chairman Sharon Bulova said yesterday reading from the motion. She added FCPD has new procedures and trainings that might provide more useful data on use-of-force interactions.

Following the 2017 study, Police Chief Edwin Roessler has been trying to find an academic partner to help with data analysis for further use-of-force studies, but hasn’t found a “suitable” partner yet, Bulova said.

In a joint effort, Bulova and Braddock District Supervisor John Cook presented a motion yesterday (May 7) to direct the police auditor to coordinate the search for an academic or researcher to review the disparity and then report findings and any recommendations to the board.

“As the Police Auditor has experience with compiling similar types of reports, I am in favor of the Police Auditor’s office overseeing the search for an academic partner and completion of the use-of-force study,” Bulova said.

Initially, the motion just focused on hiring an academic partner, but, at the suggestion of Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, was changed to also consider hiring a research partner.

Herrity took issue with the comparison used to evaluate the disparity, saying that analysis should not compare use-of-force victims to the Fairfax County population, since they may not reside in the county.

“Almost half of the use-of-force against African Americans involved non-residents,” he said. “If we’re going to compare it to our population, we need to do an apples to apples.”

He later clarified his comments, saying, “I agree it doesn’t matter if you’re a resident or nonresident. You should be treated fairly.”

Cook responded by saying that the 40 percent still indicates a racial disparity, regardless of residency.

Fairfax County isn’t the only place scrutinizing local police use-of-force data and looking to address police violence against minorities at disproportionate rates.

The mayor of Ithaca, New York ordered an investigation into an incident between local police and a black man and woman, with some people criticizing the police on their use of force after videos of the incident were released.

A bill in California that would make it easier to file criminal charges against police officers who use lethal force when other options were available has received widespread support following the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man shot by police in Sacramento last March.

Over in Wyoming, all law enforcement officers now must complete training every two years, which includes courses on when and how to use force.

A study by researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health found that the disparity between black and white individuals who are not known to be armed and are shot by police increases as racism on the state level increases.

FCPD recently released its annual crime report, which listed 500 uses-of-force incidents in 2018. The report does not provide a demographic breakdown for use-of-force incidents.

File photo

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