Newsletter

Fairfax County police grapple with understaffing, retention issues

The Fairfax County Police Department is grappling with high levels of understaffing and attrition, a problem that law enforcement officials warn could intensify in the coming months.

During a public safety committee with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (Oct. 26), officials said understaffing and retention are impacting the entire public safety sector, including the Fire and Rescue Department, 9/11 call centers, and the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office.

“The FCPD is experiencing an unparalleled level of staffing shortages within its workforce,” FCPD Capt. Rachel Levy said, adding that the issue could become “an insurmountable task” for the agency to overcome if left unaddressed.

FCPD has 144 vacancies in its 1,484 authorized sworn force — a vacancy rate of nearly 10%. Currently, some officers work voluntary overtime. Others are pulled from special positions like neighborhood patrols and community outreach to fill gaps in shifts.

That’s despite undertaking what Levy described as an “unprecedented effort” for recruitment. This year, the police department hosted 109 recruitment events and initiatives, up from 54 in 2018.

Board members acknowledged that the county needs to increase the applicant pool, attract a higher number of qualified candidates, streamline the hiring process, and increase retention.

The missing piece — compensation — remains unaddressed. Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who chairs the public safety committee, called lack of competitive pay the “elephant in the room.”

Deputy Chief of Police Bob Blakley said the police department needs to be able to compete aggressively with other police departments to attract every candidate considering a career in law enforcement.

He says FCPD needs to double the number of officers it hires every year and slow attrition by encouraging officers near the 25-year retirement mark to stay for a few more years.

Blakley pointed to a recent 15% pay increase instituted through a collective bargaining agreement by the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland as a good example of competitive pay.

“We will never be able to compete with organizations that are going to just leave us in the dust. And [if] we’re going to be the best, we need to be the best,” he said.

Lusk said the board will work with its budget and personnel committees to determine next steps, including whether compensation increases are warranted.

FCPD did not immediately share its pay scale.

The issue of understaffing was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to board chairman Jeff McKay.

“Already, people are thinking if they want to work the same way they did,” he said, adding that he supports collective hiring and pay increases for public safety personnel.

The police officer shortage in the United States predates recent calls to “defund” the police, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In fact, staffing has declined for the past eight years, with 86% of departments across the country reporting a shortage last year.

While the pandemic and anti-police sentiment have intensified issues, the shortage stems from staffing boosts granted by the federal government between 1996 and 2002. Hundreds of those positions are now eligible for full retirement, though some were eliminated through attrition during the economic downturn between 2008 and 2012.

This year, 27 Fairfax County police officers are expected to retire. Next year, an additional 48 will become eligible. The number continues to climb each year with not enough new recruits to fill in shoes.

Applications for the county’s police academy are down from 4,121 in 2015 to 1,450 as of last year.

Unlike previous years, Blakley said some officers who have been in the force for years are leaving for other careers like information technology.

Lusk suggested the county could bolster public safety recruitment efforts by improving the online hiring process.

The county sheriff’s office is facing similar issues, prompting it to eliminate some work-release programs to free up staff for other services. Further reductions may be needed in the future, officials say.

“We just can’t keep up with departures,” said Major Tamara Gold, sheriff’s office assistant chief. The office loses some of its staff to the police department, which offers between 2.5% and 7.5% more pay.

The Department of Public Safety Communications has started aggressively recruiting at the high school level. The department’s priority is ensuring its 911 call center is fully staffed, Assistant Director Lorraine Fells-Danzer said.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said legislation that he called “anti-law enforcement” — like the Police Civilian Review Panel  — is deterring people from becoming police officers.

“What I haven’t heard today is our plan…moving forward,” he said.

Recent Stories

Pickleball players celebrate the opening of the courts at Glyndon Park (staff photo by Jay Westcott) The nationwide face-off between pickleball enthusiasts and homeowners has arrived in the Town of Vienna….

The Tysons location you want. The luxurious features and finishes you desire. The thoughtful amenities you deserve. This is Monarch — Tysons’ only new high-rise condominium building — opening Spring…

The shop 520 Ice Cream and Tea has closed at the Mosaic District after five years (staff photo by Angela Woolsey) The Mosaic District is no longer home to the…

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay (file photo) Fairfax County’s top priorities for 2023 will be increasing mental health services, boosting police retention, addressing commercial office vacancies, and…

Chris Green is one of the DMV’s finest fitness instructors. A Lululemon and South Block ambassador, he is a coach and mentor to so many. He embodies grace, positivity and motivation in ways that no one else can. If we could all learn a thing or two from him, the world would be a much better place. He does so much for others, and does so with a smile on his face 99% of the time.

He recently ruptured his Achilles and has an incredibly long and tough journey ahead. As if COVID hadn’t impacted fitness professionals enough, throw this in the mix and it’s a double, even triple whammy. CG is no longer able to work and do what he loves for the time being because of this and we’d love your support.

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here for just $99.

The Rhea Baker State Farm Agency is proud to support Shelter House in providing safe places to be during quarantine. Shelter House’s mission is to prevent and end homelessness and domestic violence. Right now they are providing over 200 hotel rooms to those in need in our community. In the past year, across all programs, Shelter House served nearly 500 households comprised of over 1,500 individuals, 60% of which were children.

Of the households that exited shelter, over 70% moved to permanent housing. The Baker Agency has served Vienna and Tysons residents and business owners since 2007 and proudly offers insurance solutions for you home, condo, auto insurance, life insurance and more. We offer complimentary reviews and coach teen drivers to safer, better drivers, and to help keep your auto insurance rates down! We are always happy to talk or text at 703-847-6880.

Submit your own Community Post here for just $99.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list