Police Reform Recommendations Sit on a Shelf

Inaction by Supervisors compounded by FCPD stalling on life-saving measures.

In the past year, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors has yet to act on 51 of 52 police reform recommendations presented to them by County Supervisor Rodney Lusk’s board-appointed Fairfax County Police Reform Matrix Working Group in their May 12, 2023, report, “Community Recommendations for More Equitable Policing in Fairfax County: A Proposed Action Plan

Seeing a lack of Board action in police reform over 12 months, the Matrix Working Group followed up with a 15-page report, “Recommendations to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Next Steps in Police Reform.”

The members of the Fairfax County Police Reform Matrix Working Group remain committed in 2024 to updating of Fairfax County Police Department policies, although the group is no longer a formal county entity. The Matrix Working Group continues to engage with the Board of Supervisors and attempts to engage with the Fairfax County Police Department on an ad hoc basis, particularly on reform recommendations that deal with the proportionality in the use of force; foot pursuits, civilian review; expansion of behavioral health care resources, efficacy and disparity analyses, and deadly policing practices that target communities of color and individuals experiencing mental health crises. 

However, the Matrix Working Group is essentially locked out of further discussions with the FCPD, as evidenced by the department’s repeated denials of the group’s requests for co-production on policy development as well as requests for information and documents, instructing them to file Freedom of Information Act requests instead. FOIAs can come with a bill for research time and copies; documents can be refused or redacted.

The recommended policies proposed by the Matrix Working Group in Action Plan 2023 and revisited in a condensed roadmap-form in Next Steps 2024, aim to increase trust, ensure data and information transparency, create co-production opportunities, hold police officers and the Fairfax County Police Department accountable, and push for access to documentation. Next Steps 2024 cites disagreement with Chief Davis’ belief that the newly established One Fairfax Roundtable can replace co-production. Next Steps 2024 explains that the One Fairfax Roundtable lacks the necessary tools and design to offer significant guidance on police policies and practices and it is not designed to do so.

The Matrix Working Group based many of its 52 recommendations published May 12, 2023, on FCPD policing incidents since 2021, categorized into eight subsets. FCPD reports indicated that there had been eight police shootings in the prior 15 months, six in 2022, and two in 2023, as stated Community Recommendations for More Equitable Policing in Fairfax County: A Proposed Action Plan by the Police Reform Matrix Working Group, May 12, 2023 (Matrix Working Group Recommendations 2023).

“There have been three deaths caused by Fairfax police in the past nine months, the most recent involving a February 2023 foot pursuit of an unarmed Black man, Timothy Johnson, who allegedly stole a pair of sunglasses at Tysons. Another death occurred on April 5, 2023, of a kidnapping victim where a FCPD canine officer came to the assistance of the Virginia State Police, although it is unclear who fired the fatal shot,” reported Matrix Working Group Recommendations 2023. 

The day before the Matrix Working dated and published its recommendations, on May 11, 2023, Fairfax County Police fatally shot Brandon Lemagne, 38, after Lemagne attacked and attempted to disarm another Fairfax County police officer in Mount Vernon. The average for officer-involved shootings for the prior 10 years was 1.5 annually, according to the Message from Chief Davis, Chief of Police

Recommended policies are new or clarifications of existing ones, such as: a policy on the use of force and proportionality; pointing a firearm with further clarifications or appropriateness; and others. 

In 2020, the Chair of the Board of Supervisors Safety and Security Committee, Supervisor Rodney Lusk (Franconia) had sought community input on necessary reforms for the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD). The committee ultimately received 315 practice and policy recommendations from the community. These recommendations, compiled into a matrix, are available for online viewing at FCPD and BOS Police Reform Tracker. This is the source of the Matrix Working Group’s 52 recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, ripe for impactful implementation.

According to Next Steps 2024, six recommendations are immediately pressing: “Evaluate and Improve Current Civilian Oversight of Police; Clarify the Roles of the One Fairfax Roundtable and FCPD-community Co-production to Expand Engagement with Communities of Color; Expand Resources and the Role of Behavioral Health to Reduce Low Level Offenses; Measure and Assess Progress on Police Reform; Require Disclosure of Key Reports in the Public Interest; and Restart Co-Production on Current Pressing Concerns, with BOS Resolution if Needed.”

Fairfax County's police reform is under attack from two distinct angles. 

Not only has the board not taken action on 51 of 52 recommendations in the last 12 months, the sole one acted upon being The One Fairfax Roundtable. Also the Fairfax County Police Department, specifically Chief Davis, did not engage in a responsive manner with the Matrix Working Group after it released Action Plan 2023, thereby thwarting forward motion on recommendations.

By October 2023, NAACP Fairfax publicly condemned the FCPD’s lack of timely action on life-saving measures.

NAACP Fairfax witnesses FCPD’s inaction on life-saving measures; foreshadowing the department's responses to the Matrix Working Group

Through its Oct. 3, 2023, public release, the Fairfax County NAACP escalated awareness of FCPD's lack of action on police reform, saying Police Chief Davis rejected what NAACP Fairfax called "life-saving measures." The Connection reported that NAACP Fairfax issued the "urgent statement" on behalf of community leaders condemning Davis.

According to the 2023 release, Timothy McCree Johnson, who was shot and killed by a Fairfax County police officer in February after a foot pursuit when police suspected him of stealing sunglasses from a department store at Tysons Corner Mall, would be alive today if the FCPD had established a best practices policy on foot pursuits earlier that year.

The now-indicted police department officer killed Johnson fifteen months ago. However, other FCPD officers still lack formal guidance on when and how to conduct foot pursuits, determine the necessary and proportional use of force, and more. In an email shared with The Connection on Thursday, May 23, Adrian Steel, a member of the Matrix Working Group, said that the policy for pointing a firearm would benefit from co-production, and so too does Next Steps 2024. 

Ongoing FCPD Stalling and Disruptions to Collaboration

The Next Steps 2024, details a list of Fairfax County Police Department denials of the Working Group requests for co-production and access to data. Alejandro provided the document to the board. The question remains: What is the root cause of FCPD’s seemingly uncooperative, non-collaborative behavior toward the Working Group and Fairfax NAACP?

The Matrix Working Group submitted a separate 4-page report to the Board: “Key Components of a Foot Pursuit Policy, Recommendation to Chief Davis on August 22, 2023.” It includes comments from Dr. Vernon C. Walton, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Vienna, member of the Matrix Working Group; ACLU People Power Fairfax, whose lead advocate is Diane Alejandro; and Fairfax NAACP. The report analyzes policy suggestions proposed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) (2019), the Stanford Center for Racial Justice Model Policy (SCRJ) (2022), and PERF (Police Executive Research Forum) recommendations on the recent FCPD shooting incidents, and other research. Members of the Working Group requested co-production on a foot pursuit policy, but the FCPD denied it.

On Nov. 13, the Working Group met with Chief Davis and Deputy County Executive Tom Arnold. They learned that the chief was willing to treat pointing a firearm as a use of force. According to Next Steps 2024, the Working Group requested from FCPD the ongoing co-production of a proposed compromise to the proportionality standard governing authorized use of force, as well as a foot pursuit policy. Those too, FCPD denied. The Working Group sought access to the FCPD studies mentioned in its response but received direction from FCPD to pursue them through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

On March 22, 2024, the Working Group met with Chief Davis for what he described as the “last time.” Next Steps 2024, states that Davis told them “all future engagement with community leaders and advocates — including on the new foot pursuit policy — would take place through the new One Fairfax Roundtable.” The Roundtable reportedly met for the first time on April 25, 2024. An online search comes up empty.

Roundtable: No Substitute for Community Engagement

In Next Steps 2024, the Working Group cautioned that the One Fairfax Roundtable cannot be “a substitute for current co-production,” as Chief Davis reportedly suggested. "Community engagement in substantive policing “best practices would effectively cease,” states Next Steps 2024.

FCPD vs. Working Group Assessments of Progress

A bottom-line assessment of FCPD’s Response to the Community Recommendations, with Chief Davis saying at the meeting with the Working Group “the completion rate is 85 percent.”

The Matrix Working Group (denoted as RMWG in charts of Next Steps 2023) “assesses that only 25 percent of our proposals (13/52) have even been partially adopted or agreed to, in the eight categories.”

The Connection requested comment from Chief Kevin Davis by emailing him directly:

“I have received information that on Monday, May 13, Diane Burkley Alejandro of ACLU People Power Fairfax emailed you and others, subject line: BOS action on police reform. She sent you documents. I've attached them to this email.

“What is your reaction to the documents?

“What next steps might you consider?

“When could these steps be taken, and how?”

Katherine Hayek, FCPD Director of Public Affairs replied: “friendly reminder that all media inquires/request for comment should go through us at the FCPDMedia email you have, and not to individual officers. We prioritize and respond to them for you the quickest that way, as well. We'll have the media team review your inquiry and get back to you shortly.”

FCPD did not make Davis or other FCPD staff available for an interview, responding instead with a statement, asking also that the statement not be attributed to anyone by name. "The FCPD remains proud of our enormous progress over the last several years. As policing continues to evolve and as the FCPD serves as a best-practice police organization, we look forward to collaborating with the newly formed One Fairfax Roundtable as its members work with us and other Fairfax County agencies.”