The City of Falls Church should establish independent processes for reviewing use-of-force incidents involving police officers and sheriff’s deputies, a committee tasked with evaluating the community’s relationship with local law enforcement found.
In a report released on Feb. 10 and reviewed by the city council last night (Monday), the Falls Church Use of Force Review Committee recommended that the city create a citizen review board and identify an outside organization to manage internal affairs investigations by the City of Falls Church Police Department and Sheriff’s Office.
“The implementation of an independent review of use of force incidents will mitigate the potential risk inherent in the current system,” the committee said in its report. “An independent finding will not face the same level of legal challenges or public scrutiny because the process will be clear, the reviewers will not be in the officer’s supervisory chain, and the board will be transparent.”
The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation during its special session last year giving localities the authority to establish civilian bodies with oversight over local law enforcement agencies, though the law will not officially be effective until July 1.
If Falls Church pursues the review committee’s recommendations for independent oversight, it would follow in the steps of Fairfax County, which created an independent police auditor and civilian review panel in 2016 to evaluate select Fairfax County Police Department investigations.
The committee also recommends that the City of Falls Church allocate funds to increase staffing for the police department, noting that the agency has contained about 33 positions since the 1970s despite a roughly 56% rise in the city’s population in recent years, including a nearly 20% increase between 2010 and 2019.
In addition to adding more full-time officers, the report suggests hiring a full-time certified trainer who could help train police officers and sheriff’s deputies on use-of-force practices and procedures, bias reduction and restorative justice, and management of situations involving vulnerable populations, such as individuals with mental health challenges, people with disabilities, and non-English speakers.
The committee argues that failing to staff law enforcement and public safety agencies at levels commensurate to the population they serve “is a significant risk,” resulting in personnel who have less time to train and receive insufficient organizational support to perform their duties.
Other recommendations in the report include: Read More
The Falls Church Use of Force Review Committee is nearly done compiling experiences and reviews of policies and investigations for a report on how police officers and sheriffs utilize force in their work.
The report is slated to go before the Falls Church City Council on Feb. 22 and will address the committee’s findings from pouring over 113 reports of uses of force by local law enforcement, nearly 400 community responses to a survey about experiences with officers, and the department’s policies governing the use of force.
It will also include 10 recommendations, ranging from procedural changes to community engagement.
The committee reviewed the results from the community survey, which drew 393 responses, last night (Wednesday).
“We would have loved to receive comments from every last citizen within the City of Falls Church,” Committee Chair Janis Johnson said during the meeting. “We did not, so we do appreciate those folks who were able to take time out to respond. It does inform the committee’s work and helps us validate some of our recommendations and discussions.”
The most-represented respondents were white women between the ages of 35 and 64, and 111 respondents identified as non-white or withheld their demographic information.
Committee vice chair Brian Creswick said the number of responses was encouraging, and neither the demographic percentages nor the distribution of answers surprised him. Broadly, he said the results of the survey mirror what the committee has found after reviewing policies and use of force reports.
“There was a generally positive view [of law enforcement],” he said. “I think there was a slightly more negative view among minority populations. I don’t want to editorialize whether it was significant or not — the numbers showed a decrease.”
Across the board, more than 96% of respondents said they had not experienced force by the Falls Church Police Department or sheriff’s department. Nearly 90% of respondents reported never seeing law enforcement use force, but among people of color and people who did not specify race — two groups that were combined in the committee’s data breakdown — the share was lower at around 77%.
About 10% of people of color/people who did not specify race said the police or deputies they interacted with displayed poor or very poor levels of professionalism. That was twice as high as when white people were included in the overall rate.
Around 85% of respondents said the police department and sheriff’s office keep the city safe. About 81% of people of color/unspecified race shared that sentiment.
Although nearly 400 people responded, the survey yielded 858 comments, which will be included in the report.
Some comments after the survey indicated feelings toward law enforcement that were not captured by the questionnaire responses. Committee members said the comments indicate some people of color feel targeted by law enforcement and perceive a sense of arrogance among officers.
Public representative Raymond Touomou cautioned against only looking at what the majority said because this group is “overwhelmingly white.”
“One of the best ways is to look at what the minorities think happened to them,” he said. “When I read the results, there were some things that are alarming, and transcend statistical significance…such as kids who report being harassed on their way to and from school.”
Public representative Toni Lewis said the group was intentional about reaching out to minority communities. Although she phoned apartment complexes and churches, she said that “as in many surveys and initiatives, we ran into the problem of engaging the usual suspects.”
“I’ll own that we could have made this better marketed,” she said.
Falls Church established the committee on June 12 after recent deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, fueled calls for action on racial justice issues.
The committee was set to go before the city council in December but requested an extension so it would have enough time to collect data and debrief the results of the city-wide survey with the community.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
Fairfax County Sheriff’s Deputy Dies in Jail COVID-19 Outbreak — “A veteran Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office deputy has died of covid-19 amid an outbreak of the coronavirus at the county jail that has sickened more than 30 guards and inmates in recent days, authorities said.” [The Washington Post]
Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team Launches — 11 local law enforcement agencies, including the police departments of Vienna and Falls Church City, have agreed to assist each other on investigations where an officer could face criminal charges, such as a shooting or in-custody death. [City of Falls Church]
How Office Development Rules Limit Walkability in Tysons — “While new developments in Tysons are improving the area’s density and walkability, some of them retain characteristics of the county’s historically suburban character. In particular, regulatory barriers prevent office development in Tysons from having the features of the most walkable pedestrian environments.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Hundreds of Residents Donated to Tysons Corner Blood Drives in 2020 — “The blood drives were wildly successful ultimately yielding 1,757 total blood donations helping over 5,200 patients get the necessary blood, plasma, and platelet transfusions needed to heal.” [Tysons Partnership]
Louise Archer Students Earn Honors in Vocabulary Competition — “Several teams representing Louise Archer Elementary achieved highest honors in the recent WordMasters Challenge™, a national vocabulary competition involving nearly 125,000 students annually.” [FCPS]
Staff photo by Angela Woolsey
After 28 years in the role, Falls Church Sheriff Stephen Bittle recently retired. Now, voters will choose his successor next year.
Bittle retired on Saturday (Aug. 15), the City of Falls Church announced today. Chief Deputy Sheriff Matt Cay will serve as the interim sheriff until the election in November 2021.
Bittle started working for the city’s police department in 1966 and then left to become the interim sheriff in 1992, according to the city. He was officially elected to the position in 1993. Bittle ran unopposed in the last five elections, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.
The Virginia House of Delegates lauded Bittle for 50 years of service in 2017.
Falls Church voters elect the sheriff every four years. The sheriff’s office provides court security and prisoner transportation and also works with the city’s police department to help with things like traffic control, special events and training exercises.
Photo via City of Falls Church
FRIT Opening Tysons Office — Maryland-based Federal Realty Investment Trust, which owns the Pike 7 shopping center, is planning to open an office in Tysons to better manage its Northern Virginia properties. [Washington Business Journal]
Sheriff’s Office Alerts ICE — “The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office notifies U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities when a possibly undocumented immigrant in its custody is scheduled to be released, a written notice given to inmates says.” [Fairfax Times]
Programming Note — For those of you used to seeing Morning Notes on this site, or on our sister sites of ARLnow and Reston Now, we’re changing things up a bit here. Instead of a daily post, we will now be doing a once-weekly roundup of Tysons, McLean, Vienna and Falls Church-related items in the news since last Friday.