Police are supposed to provide safety and protection to the people they serve, but that ideal falls short of reality for some citizens.
Disproportionate arrest, incarceration, and use-of-force rates have made communities of color, particularly black people, as well as people with disabilities wary of police.
Undocumented immigrants are reluctant to report crimes for fear of being detained or deported.
The Fairfax County Police Department has made no secret of its desire to change those perceptions.
Since December 2014, the department has worked with the Fairfax County Communities of Trust Committee, a citizens group dedicated to building positive relationships between public safety agencies and the people they serve.
However, wanting to be trusted and earning that trust are two different things, and the latter can be especially challenging for a department that serves more than 1 million people.
With Fairfax County becoming more urban and populous, patrol officers often have little time and energy to spare for mundane, friendly interactions when they are focused on responding to the hundreds of thousands of service calls that the department receives each year, according to Franconia District Station Commander Capt. Gregory Fried.
The FCPD’s most recent annual report showed that the department fielded more than 480,000 calls for service in 2017.
To encourage a more proactive approach to community policing, Fried is leading an effort to introduce neighborhood and community engagement teams dedicated to building a rapport with local organizations, neighborhoods, and businesses.
“Their primary responsibility or mission would not be to arrest,” Fried said. “It’s to establish these relationships and this trust in the community, so we’re all working together, and they feel comfortable around us.”
Using a similar team started last year by police in Buffalo, N.Y., as a model, the neighborhood engagement team would consist of community liaison and outreach officers as well as those that specialize in community policing or are familiar with a particular neighborhood.
The Buffalo Police Department deployed a Neighborhood Engagement Team for a 100-day pilot project in June 2018.
The neighborhood where the team was stationed saw a decrease in crime and other indicators of progress that were substantial enough for the department to make the team permanent, according to an article that The Buffalo News published on Nov. 30.
Eventually, the FCPD hopes to create additional positions specifically for the team, but for now, the department is looking at alternative ways of using existing full-time officers so that the team can be implemented sooner rather than later.
As of Monday, Fried was putting the finishing touches on his proposal for a pilot and expected to get it approved by the end of the week.
“Our hope is to work on it in different areas in the county to kind of measure the success, which is not exactly easy to do,” Fried said. “But we’re going to see what we can do and learn from that to then make it better when we hopefully fully implement it. We just feel it’s very important to have consistency in these relationships to be able to really make a meaningful and deliberate impact.”