Continuing to keep a growing and changing Fairfax County safe will require ramping up staffing of the county’s public safety agencies over the next five years, agency leaders say.
The five-year public safety staffing plan proposes new prosecutors, police officers, EMTs and 9-1-1 operators – a total of more than 350 positions with a price tag in excess of $50 million over the five-year period.
Deputy County Executive David Rohrer said the growth in public safety agencies is needed to both address changing needs and to ensure that the agencies can continue to work proactively preventing incidents.
“What kind of Fairfax County do you want?” Rohrer asked the Board of Supervisors. One with a prevention-focused public safety mission, “or staff so we just respond to calls and react to events.”
In addition to pure population growth, the urbanization of many areas of the county requires different approaches to public safety, Rohrer said. Everything from adding more high-rise apartment buildings to a new elevated Metro line is changing how police and firefighters do their jobs.
The increasing proportion of older adults in the county also has an effect in areas like the number of emergency medical calls.
Changes in federal and state laws and regulations can also increase the amount of time employees spend in training and the amount of time they have to spend on a given incident.
“It is taking officers longer to work a normal complaint,” said Lt. Col. Erin Schaible, who runs the Fairfax County Police Department’s Patrol Bureau. “You’re not getting through a DWI in an hour-and-a-half; it’s taking three hours.”
The agency also has 46 fewer officers than it did in 2009. Schaible said resources tend to be focused on areas of the county that have the highest numbers of calls for service, leaving less dense, lower-crime areas of the county like Great Falls without an active police presence.
The department hopes to get back to 2009 staffing levels for patrol officers, plus increase support in specialized positions like computer forensics, crime scene investigators and animal control.
Commonwealth’s attorney Ray Morrogh said his office is already stretched thin with one of the highest caseloads in the state.
“I literally have people who work 80 hours a week,” he said.
Virginia Beach’s commonwealth’s attorney’s office, which has less than half the population of Fairfax County, has 37 prosecutors and 87 paralegals and other support staff, Morrogh said.
By comparison, Fairfax County has 27 attorneys and only 8 support positions. Two of the attorneys’ salaries are funded by grants and they only work on domestic violence cases. Those grants are expiring soon, Morrogh said.
Even accounting for the differences in crime rates, Fairfax County’s prosecutors are each handling an average of 230 cases per year, 122 of which are felony cases, compared to 100 to 150 total cases per attorney per year in Virginia’s other populous jurisdictions.
Morrogh proposes increasing staffing to 54 attorneys and 25 support staff positions over the next five years, bringing attorneys’ caseload in line with Richmond and Norfolk.
However, the state, which funds more than half of his office’s budget, is not likely to pick up any of the tab, Morrogh said.
“I’ve gone to them every year and asked for 10 more people,” he said. “They tell me with a straight face to stop prosecuting misdemeanors.”
The Fire and Rescue Department is seeking the largest increase in staffing, requesting 154 new positions over five years. Most of those positions are to allow the agency add a fourth firefighter/paramedic to ladder trucks, a recommended standard from the National Fire Protection Association that has been a top priority of the department for years.
Even though this doesn’t add more trucks to the fleet, the increased staffing will help improve response time to incidents, said Fire Chief Richard Bowers.
Other challenges the department is adapting to include different building types and the increased use of synthetic building and furniture materials, which tend to burn much faster than natural materials.
“We have a changed fire environment,” Bowers said.
County Executive Ed Long has proposed starting to implement the increased staffing in fiscal 2016. His budget assumptions for the 2016 budget include 77 of the requested public safety positions.
However, with decreased revenue projections also announced Tuesday, the county is now projecting a $13 million deficit for that fiscal year.