Fairfax County proposes consolidating animal shelter and police services

The Fairfax County Animal Shelter (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County wants to consolidate the duties of its Department of Animal Sheltering (DAS) and Animal Protection Police (APP).

Under the new arrangement, DAS would oversee both animal care services and enforcement of animal protection laws, which would be carried out by animal control officers (ACO), according to the recommendation from DAS and the Fairfax County Police Department.

Staff presented the proposed changes to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a safety and security committee meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 30).

In 2016, the county chose to split animal care and control functions between the DAS and the police department, a decision that did not “result in a successful integration of two separate departments working together to provide animal services,” the proposal says.

DAS currently manages two public animal shelters, one on West Ox Road in the Fairfax area and a second campus that opened in Lorton last October. The FCPD’s Animal Protection Police unit deals with encounters between humans and animals, including wildlife and potential criminal situations involving pets.

Under the proposed changes, ACOs would have “nearly the same” scope of authority as Animal Protection Police Officers (APPO) and would handle all calls for service, including for:

  • Issuing a summons, obtaining search and arrest warrants
  • Investigation of animal cruelty and neglect
  • Investigation of animal fighting
  • Investigation of animal bites
  • Response to sick, injured, or stray companion animals
  • Rabies vaccination and dog license enforcement

FCPD would continue to assist with criminal investigations, and ACOs would still get required training through the Commonwealth of Virginia, but they wouldn’t go through the police academy as APPOs do.

DAS Director Reasa Currier said having the two separate services has presented challenges for decades, and other jurisdictions that have consolidated their departments are seeing success.

“Jurisdictions that have recently moved to a consolidated model report significant benefits, including increased compliance rates, decreased shelter intake and a trusting community,” she said.

Describing animal services as a “highly specialized and technical field,” Currier said providing those services through one department “ensures we’re embracing industry best practices.”

She said the proposal would also enhance the health and safety of the community, and it’s in direct alignment with the county’s One Fairfax policy and equity goals.

In addition to their law enforcement duties, ACOs would connect pet owners with several services, such as free pet food and supplies as well as free and low-cost veterinary care.

“It is important to note that this proposed model does not replace enforcement for animal cruelty and neglect,” Currier added.

Deputy Chief of Police Lt. Robert Blakely said the changes would allow police officers to focus more on enforcing the law and would have very little impact on animals and people in the community.

“An animal control officer can enforce all of Virginia’s animal control laws as it pertains to domesticated animals running at-large and rabies vaccinations and county ordinances,” Blakely said.

Police Chief Kevin Davis said the people calling for service would see a similar process. For example, residents would still call the Department of Public Safety Communications through 911 or the non-emergency number, and the department would still dispatch animal control officers to respond to the scene.

“In the very few cases that police were needed to assist, police would then be added to that call, just as we are today,” Davis said.

The proposal could be included in the county executive’s advertised budget for fiscal year 2025, which will be presented on Feb. 20. The Board of Supervisors will then decide whether to adopt the reorganization.

Read more on FFXnow…

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