Tysons Corner, VA

Fairfax County officials want to take a closer look at the costs linked to adding body worn cameras to the county’s police department.

After studies observing the impact of police officers wearing body cameras while on duty, several members on the Board of Supervisors came out in support of the new proposal. As body worn cameras get closer to receiving the board’s approval, two supervisors want more information to determine the fiscal impact of the project.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity kicked off the discussion of the body worn cameras at the Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday (Sept. 17) by asking what the fiscal impact would be.

The program would cost about $6.2 million by fiscal year 2022, Deputy County Executive for Public Safety Dave Rohrer told the board.

“That includes the Commonwealth Department of Information Technology, the police officers, the cameras, the storage and equipment,” Rohrer said. “It’s an all-in number.”

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook said that if Board of Supervisors approves the action items on the body worn cameras at the meeting next Tuesday (Sept. 24), he will request a report on how it could affect the budget for the Public Defenders’ Office.

Cook noted that the presentation about the pilot program included information about costs for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

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Fairfax County Fire and Rescue has the opportunity to step up their safety protocols thanks to a new grant.

The fire department is one of 25 departments across the nation that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) thought would benefit from a pilot program that helps departments develop a community risk assessment tool.

The $7,000 grant includes a data analytics system that allows the fire department to identify risks to property and life while also finding different conditions that exacerbate the threat.

The money will go towards the creation of a personalized dashboard that will be active through July 31, 2020 and specialized training to accompany the program, according to the department.

“Not only will access to the tool give us invaluable information about our community’s needs, but it is rewarding to know that using the tool will increase its effectiveness and help other fire departments in the long run,” Battalion Chief George Robbins, who leads the department’s community risk reduction department, said.

This September, the NFPA will hand out another 25 grants to departments. The departments are chosen based on size, geography, community support and other indicators. So far, 150 departments have applied for the grant.

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Ahead of the new school year starting next week, Fairfax County Public Schools debuted a new partnership with an app that will help parents track when the school bus will arrive.

After a pilot program, the FCPS Office of Transportation Services announced FCPS will offer the “Here Comes the Bus” app for the 2019-2020 school year yesterday (Monday).

“[The app] uses HTTPS like a bank or online store, making all communications between a device and the site are encrypted and secure,” according to FCPS, adding that the app uses GPS to track the locations of the buses.

Started in 2001 by a pair of graduates, the app has nearly 1.5 million registered users and is used in school districts across the country, spanning Orlando to San Antonio.

Since the app tracks the bus routes instead of individuals students, FCPS wants people to remember that bus substitutions can affect the accuracy of the app and that app shouldn’t replace communication with students about their whereabouts.

The app is free for parents and guardians and provides real-time bus locations through text or email alerts, according to FCPS. The app will be available to use starting next Monday (Aug. 26) for FCPS families.

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors mostly expressed support for implementing body worn cameras for the county’s police department following presentations about the results from a six-month-long pilot program.

Chief of Police Edwin Roessler Jr., Richard Bennett from American University and Deputy County Executive David Rohrer presented the results of the study to the county board during yesterday’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

The results of the study arrived almost a year after the pilot program, which was rolled out in the Mason, Mount Vernon and Reston district stations from March-September 2018, ended.

Bennett summarized the 119-page report by researchers at American University, which yielded mixed — yet generally positive — results.

Funded by the Koch Foundation and American University, the study randomly assigned half of the police officers in the three districts to body worn cameras and collected data from surveys, focus groups and ridealongs from both officers with and without the cameras.

While officers who wore the cameras during the pilot slightly increased their level of interest in the cameras by the end of the pilot, Bennett said that most officers said in focus groups and surveys that the cameras would not change how they work or how civilians’ react.

However, Bennett noted that people had slightly fewer complaints against the officers who wore the cameras, than ones who did not.

During the presentations, the police chief made a pitch for the county to implement the program. “I’m confident that [the county] should approve the program,” Roessler told the committee. “The IT infrastructure can be built up at the other facilities.”

The nearly $30 million proposed program would issue 1,210 body-worn cameras that would be phased in over three years with a five-year contract for equipment, licensing and storage. Body worn cameras would come to the McLean District during the second year of the program, according to the timeframe in the presentation.

About $10 million would be needed for contract costs, while $20 million would go toward staffing, with new positions needed at the police department, Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Department of Information Technology.

While some of the supervisors raised concerns about if the high cost outweighed the proposed program’s benefits, most of the supervisors expressed support for implementation.

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(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) Independence Day is Thursday, and Fairfax County has some safety tips for people ahead of the festivities.

For fans of fireworks, Fairfax County is explicit on what is allowed:

Unless expressly approved by the County Fire Marshal in the form of a Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP), the exploding, igniting, and use of fireworks is strictly prohibited in Fairfax County and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna. However, the supervised use of permissible fireworks on private property with the consent of the owner of such property is allowed, and a permit is not required

Permissible fireworks — consumer fireworks legally allowed for sale and use in the county — include sparklers, fountains, Pharaoh’s serpents, caps for pistols or pinwheels — whirligigs or spinning jennies. You’ll need a permit if you want fireworks or pyrotechnic displays.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue has some tips for pet and human safety around fireworks.

They include:

  • adults should supervisor minors around permissible fireworks
  • when using permissible fireworks, place the device on a flat surface at least 50 feet away from any combustible materials and buildings
  • never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have malfunctioned
  • keep a bucket of water or hose handy in case of a fire
  • light fireworks one at a time after reading the directions
  • leave pets at home during a fireworks display
  • never shoot, point or throw fireworks in the direction of a human or pet

Last Friday (June 28), the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s Fire Marshal’s Office highlighted the harm and damage fireworks can cause with a video from a press conference that shows a fire starting after several explosions.

Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash
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Police, fire and emergency response agencies might not be the only ones who will be using unmanned aircraft in Fairfax County in the future.

Back in May, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, which proposes to incorporate drones into government operations with a particular focus on public safety.

Now, the county board has decided to not limit unmanned aircraft to only public safety uses.

At yesterday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved a new procedure for non-public safety departments and agencies, including the Fairfax County Park Authority, to obtain the board’s permission to also use the drones.

Interested agencies will need to tell the board why they want to participate in the program, and, after reviewing the request, the board will then take a vote.

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook suggested adding the approval process for the drone program expansion.

Photo via Flickr/Joe Loong

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Fairfax County Fire and Rescue wants to educate locals on how to prevent issues with charcoal disposal following a fire in a home in the Wolf Trap area.

Fire investigators say that improper disposal of charcoal briquettes caused the fire on Sunday (June 9) afternoon.

The investigators determined that the fire started by accident on the rear deck in the enclosed covered porch, according to Fairfax County Fire and Rescue.

Firefighters responded around 2 p.m. and quickly extinguished the fire at a two-story, single family home in the 9000 block of Edgepark Road.

No one was injured by the fire, which caused $11,000 worth of damage, according to the fire department.

In an effort to help stop similar fires from happening, the fire department has several safety tips for how to dispose of charcoal after cooking:

  • douse the fire with water and make sure the area is cool to the touch
  • empty the coals into a metal container with a tight-fitting lid that is used only to collect coals
  • place the container outside and keep away from anything that can burn
  • do not empty coals directly into a trash can
  • store the charcoal starter fluid away from children and the heat source

The fire department also has a video about grilling safety.

Map via Google Maps

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It’s the season for bear sightings in Virginia and the Vienna Police Department wants people in the Tysons area to stay safe.

“Virginia is black bear country — including the Vienna area,” the police department said in a press release today (June 6). “However, while bears are not a common encounter in our community, multiple sightings are reported each spring and summer as bears wander into residential areas searching for food.”

The police department shared a factsheet by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which says that Fairfax County has had black bear occupation occasionally, along with confirmed sightings.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has different tips for how to keep bears away from residential areas, what to do if you encounter a bear at home and how to keep them away while camping and hiking. The factsheet also addresses some common bear myths.

“Unprovoked bear attacks are very rare and have never been documented in Virginia,” according to the factsheet.

For anyone who comes into close contact with a bear, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recommends that they should back away slowly.

“Unless the animal is sick or injured or poses a threat to public safety, the Vienna Police Department does not take action to remove bears from a neighborhood,” according to the police department.

Instead, people should report bear to through the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (855) 571-9003, TTY 711.

Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash

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Fairfax County is getting closer to developing a program for the police, fire and emergency response agencies to use unmanned aircraft.

The county’s Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider tomorrow (Tuesday) approving the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, which proposes to incorporate drones into government operations with a particular focus on public safety.

“A UAS program would provide enhanced operational capability, safety, and situational awareness for first responders, other staff or volunteers, affiliated partners, and the community,” according to the draft agenda for the county board meeting.

The draft notes that unmanned aircraft are able to operate in possibly hazardous environments that could harm first responders.

Some examples of drone usage include:

  • search and rescue
  • damage assessment
  • fire incident/scene management and investigations
  • hazardous materials responses
  • geospatial data acquisition

Drones would not be used to conduct unauthorized surveillance activities or to harass individuals, the draft says.

The proposal was first brought up last year and the Board of Supervisors directed staff to conduct community outreach on the proposal. After several task force meetings on the proposal and half of a dozen public meetings, the proposal is now seeking the Board of Supervisors’ approval.

If the program is approved, staff would apply for an FAA Certificate of Authority (COA) to comply with federal requirements and also create a steering committee for oversight of the program.

Fairfax County falls under the “No Drone Zone” that placed restrictions on flying unmanned aircraft after 9/11 and requires FAA authorization within a 15-mile radius from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The fire and police departments and Office of Emergency Management would initially receive about six to eight unmanned aircraft — costing the agencies about $3,500 per drone, according to the draft.

Photo via Flickr/Joe Loong

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The Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling (FABB) is looking for Northern Virginia residents to help with bicycle and pedestrian safety by becoming a transportation safety leader.

The program offers free training in bicycle and pedestrian safety techniques and certification as a bicycle education instructor.

The program is a collaboration with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which is partnering with FABB, George Mason University, Inova Hospital and others on the project. The aim is to increase the safety of bicyclists and reduce crashes. The training is part of a federal highway safety project funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Three training programs are available:

  • League Certified Instructor (LCI) Seminar (24 hours) — To become an LCI, you’ll need to complete this comprehensive 3-day LCI Seminar. As a prerequisite, you must also complete the one-day “Smart Cycling Class” at least one month prior to the seminar as well as an open-book assessment.
  • Smart Cycling class (eight hours) — Gain bicycle safety knowledge and skills by completing this class online and six-hour seminar both in a classroom and on a bicycle.
  • Pedestrian Safety Training class (four hours) — Gain pedestrian safety knowledge and skills by completing this four-hour class over two evenings.

Participants in the program must attend all applicable training dates and commit to doing at least two community pedestrian and bicycling safety outreach events by Sept. 15 and one more by January 2020.

The training is open to any local government staff, police, school faculty or residents with an interest in improving bicycle safety. The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. on Friday, March 1.

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