County Supervisors Act Now

Increase Trust, Preserve Sanctity of Life, Reduce Disparity.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors appointed Kevin Davis as the county’s chief of police on April 23, 2021. According to the 13-page report, "Next Steps on Police Reform in Fairfax County, May 12, 2024,” by members of the County’s Police Reform Matrix Working Group, the Fairfax County Police Department has displayed adverse reactions to requests for community co-production on policy revisions, refused to share information concerning its studies, and witnessed an increase in its use of force, primarily against people of color.

Also, “a dramatic rise in police shootings [in Fairfax County] over our ten-year average is cause for concern and warrants reflective conversation about the sanctity of life,” said Dr. Vernon C. Walton, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Vienna and one of ten members of the county’s Matrix Working Group. Walton said this one year earlier, on May 16, 2023, when he and one of his colleagues on Matrix Woking Group, Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner, convener of the Matrix Working Group, presented the group’s 45-page “Community Recommendations for More Equitable Policing in Fairfax County: an Action Plan” (Action Plan 2023) to the Board at its Safety and Security Committee Meeting. The Action Plan 2023 included 52 recommendations for FCPD to the Board. Less than two years after the Board appointed Davis as the county's police chief, it assigned the Matrix Working Group’s ten members to author and present a report.

Diane Burkley Alejandro, Sadaf Atashbarghi-Nehr, Prince Howard, Mary Kimm, Adrian Steel, and Vernon Walton collaborated and authored the comprehensive Next Steps 2024. Burkley Alejandro promptly submitted it to the Board and others on the same day, and the Connection received a copy. They remain dedicated to the equity-focused action plan of the Matrix Working Group.

Three of the five individuals who authored Next Steps 2024  —Diane Burkley Alejandro, Atashbarghi-Nehr, and Pastor Walton — represent ACLU People Power Fairfax, Fairfax NAACP, and Voices of Black Fairfax. The other two, Mary Kimm and Adrian Steel have been actively involved in various county police reform committees and groups for the past decade, contributing to the creation of several critical police reform documents and studies presented to the board.

What Are ‘Next Steps 2024,’ in 13 pages?

First, Next Steps 2024 begins with a detailed background on the national scene and its impact on Fairfax County. The murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer in May 2020 sparked nationwide outrage and protests, but the impact on Fairfax County was significant because it "energized Fairfax residents to seek holistic reform of local law enforcement," according to the report.

Additional background material describes an uncooperative culture in the FCPD as recently as 2023. For example, when the Matrix Working Group requested co-production with FCPD on the 52 recommendations in their Action Plan 2023 before the agency formally responded, FCPD refused. 

The Working Group requested co-production again, with a foot pursuit policy. FCPD denied them, as the agency did a third time when the group asked for co-production on a proposed change to the “proportionality” standard governing the use of force policy. Ed Roessler Jr., Fairfax County’s police chief from 2013 to 2021, coined the word “co-production,” which in this case meant “community-FCPD engagement to understand each other’s concerns with a policing practice, with the goal of reaching a consensus through redrafting and compromise.” The Working Group then requested access to given FCPD studies; however, the agency denied their request and advised them to go through the Freedom of Information Act.

In Next Steps 2024, the authors recommended that the Board of Supervisors take immediate action on six of the 52 Working Group recommendations with the “greatest potential to increase trust, preserve the sanctity of life, and reduce disparity.” They urged the Board to take “action on issues that are ripe for resolution and referral to the One Fairfax Roundtable on matters that could benefit from further study.”

Next Steps 2024 provides the board with a clear plan.

It concisely summarizes the six recommended steps, downsized from the group’s 45-page Action Plan 2023. The six steps describe recommendations for Board action and first steps for the recently formed One Fairfax Roundtable. Reportedly, the Roundtable convened for the first time in April of this year. No record of its meetings and actions appears to be available online.

The six next steps proposed by the Matrix Working Group: “1. Evaluate and Improve Current Civilian Oversight of Police; 2. Clarify the Roles of the One Fairfax Roundtable and FCPD-community Co-production to Expand Engagement with Communities of Color; 3. Expand Resources and the Role of Behavioral Health to Reduce Low Level Offenses; 4. Measure and Assess Progress on Police Reform; 5. Require Disclosure of Key Reports in the Public Interest; and 6. Restart Co-Production on Current Pressing Concerns, with BOS Resolution if Needed.”

Example 6: “Restart Co-Production on Current Pressing Concerns, with BOS Resolution if Needed,” includes explicit directions for the Board, as do the other five steps. “(a) Use of Force- The BOS should adopt the (Matrix Working Group’s) proposal on proportionality if no … consensus is reached through co-production by July 1, 2024; (b) Foot Pursuit Policy. Reject FCPD’s proposal to refer the issue to One Fairfax Roundtable. Require and complete co-production on development of a policy by July 1, 2024; (c) Pointing a Firearm. Key issues such as what level of force pointing a firearm is considered should be subject to co-production.”

Working Group’s Next Steps 2024 describes the need for reform within FCPD.

One reason is the recent increase in the use of force and the FCPD's heightened arrest rates of people of color.

The authors of Next Steps 2024 disagree with FCPD's suggestion that their recommendations are based on national events. The authors state that concerns are locally based, saying, “FCPD’s use of force has primarily increased since 2021 against people of color.” Before that, “in 2021, the University of Texas at San Antonio’s “Investigation of the Use Of Force by the Fairfax County Police Department” (p. 53) found that, from 2016–2018, Black civilians were 2.1 times more likely to be subject to high level force (guns, tasers, etc.) than white civilians. Latino civilians were 1.4 times more likely than white civilians to be subjected to such force.”

The arrest rates of people of color increased during Chief Davis's tenure. Black residents faced a 4.4 times greater risk of arrest in 2022 (up from 3.7 in 2020), according to Next Steps 2021. The risk of arrest for Latino residents increased by 3.5 times in 2022, compared to 3.0 times in 2020.

According to the Matrix Working Group's "A Detailed Evaluation of Fairfax County Police Department's Response to the Recommendations of the Reform Matrix Working Group," dated May 12, 2024, disparity is increasing.

An In-depth Discussion of the Six Selected Recommendations follows (pages 4–10). 

Conclusion of Next Steps 2024?

The authors of Next Steps 2024 offer the Board direction. "Immediate action is needed on civilian review, expansion of behavioral health care resources, efficacy and disparity analyses, foot pursuits, and proportionality in use of force.” The report suggests that the FCPD's “reluctance to engage with the RMWG (Reform Matrix Working Group) and their flat denial of any fear or distrust among residents of color indicate a lack of understanding of our concerns.”

Next Steps 2024 closes with a one-page FCPD and RMWG Assessment of Progress chart. The information presented by the members of the Matrix Working Group in the table is much-needed, concise, and visually appealing. It interprets the extensive and daunting data initially provided in the Matrix Reform Working Groups' 45-page Action Plan 2023 with 52 recommendations compared to FCPD's 81-page response to Action Plan 2023.