While monitoring disturbing trends such as domestic homicides and increasingly violent vehicle thieves, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis hopes to hire more officers and implement changes to modernize the police department.
The county’s overall crime rate now is down by slightly more than 12 percent, which translates to about 3,500 fewer victims compared with the previous year, Davis told the McLean Citizens Association during a Nov. 17 virtual discussion that also featured remarks by Fire Chief John Butler.
But there so far have been 19 homicides this year, versus 13 at the same point last year, the police chief said.
“One life lost to violence is one life too many,” Davis said, adding that special attention should be paid to domestic situations. One-third of this year’s murders have involved young men killing their mothers, fathers and, in one case, a sister.
“That speaks to the isolation, depression, to the behavioral crisis, mental-health crisis that families are in,” Davis said. “That undoubtedly has been accelerated and exacerbated thanks to the pandemic.”
The department is intensifying its efforts to prevent vehicle thefts, he said.
“Today’s auto thieves aren’t yesterday’s auto thieves,” Davis said. “Today’s auto thieves are involved in violent crimes.”
Davis said county police are making “great progress” toward finding the young man who fatally shot 73-year-old Falls Church resident Nelson Alexander Sr. on Oct. 20 at a bank ATM in the Falls Church area. That suspect and two other men earlier that night allegedly stole a car in Alexandria, which county police recovered a half-mile from the scene of the shooting.
Davis, who grew up in College Park, Md., began his law-enforcement career as an officer with the Prince George’s County (Md.) Police Department. After serving as chief of the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Police Department and police commissioner for the city of Baltimore, he took the helm of the Fairfax County Police Department in May this year.
Fairfax County police have about 1,400 sworn officers, more than 300 civilian staffers, 70 volunteers in police service and 65 auxiliary police officers. The department has eight district stations, will add a South County station in 2023 and likely will consider a Tysons station in the future, Davis said.
Davis has begun implementing a series of changes within the department. All personnel this year or next will undergo procedural-justice and implicit-bias training. Feedback has been about 80-percent positive so far, he said.
In 2022, employees will take Integrated Communications Assessments and Tactics (ICAT), a use-of-force training program that Davis introduced in Baltimore following 2015 riots there.
“It’s a use-of-force model that encourages officers to use time and distance to their advantage and not get sucked into a situation prematurely” that could result in a use of force that, while lawful, “looks awful,” he said.
Davis changed the department’s pursuit policy to allow officers to initiate chases for people suspected of violent crimes, but not for traffic violations only, in order to reduce the chance of crash fatalities stemming from minor offenses. The policy has exemptions allowing for pursuits of suspected serial burglars and car thieves, he said.
While emphasizing he was not on their payroll, Davis gave props to video-doorbell companies such as Ring, calling their products “game-changers.” Such surveillance video often provides helpful clues during investigations, he said.
Fielding a question about using technology, such as red-light and speed cameras, to free up personnel for other tasks, Davis said such equipment changes drivers’ behavior and reduces speeding, vehicle accidents, and pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
“I’m a proponent that the fines should be reasonable,” he said. “I think you can find jurisdictions – and I won’t name any – that have predatory fines . . . Not everyone can afford to pay those high fines.”
Davis is a big proponent of school-resource officers, saying they provide not only security at public middle and high schools but also build strong community relationships.
The chief recently signed on to the nationwide “30 by 30” campaign, which challenges police departments to have at least 30 percent of their sworn officers be female by 2030. Only about 12 percent of police officers nationwide are women, but that figure is 16.5 percent for Fairfax County police, he said.
The department currently is down 150 officers, or more than 10 percent, and has two academy classes with about 50 cadets in training, Davis said. Those gains will be partly offset by the retirement at year’s end of 26 officers now participating in the county’s Deferred Retirement Option Program.
Departmental morale is bound to suffer if officers must work longer than their standard 11.5-hour-long shifts because of staffing shortages, Davis said. Recently, up to 20 percent of any given shift consisted of officers compelled to work overtime, but the department has moved patrol shifts around to relieve some of that pressure, he said.
County police are conducting three times more recruiting efforts than in 2014, when the department had four times as many applicants as this year.
“We’re just not seeing young men and women interested as much as they used to be interested in becoming police officers,” he said.
The department also is trying to retain its experienced officers a little while longer.
“I’m confident that, one at a time, we can overcome these obstacles,” Davis said.