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Homicides in Fairfax County dropped significantly, from 20 to 13, between 2017 and 2018. Use-of-force investigations however, are slightly up from 2017.

Fairfax County saw fewer violent crimes in 2018 compared to 2017, a survey by the Major Cities Chiefs Association found.

Survey results published in the 2018 Fairfax County Police Department Annual Report, which was released on May 14, show that the number of homicides in the county dropped from 20 to 13 between 2017 and 2018.

The number of crimes involving rape also declined from 98 to 92 incidents, while there were 354 robberies and 260 aggravated assaults in the past year compared to 428 robberies and 283 aggravated assaults in the previous year.

The FCPD also says that opioid-related deaths have been on a downward trend since Fairfax County formed an opioid task force in July 2017.

The task force’s plan to address opioid addiction through prevention, treatment, and harm reduction was approved in January 2018 by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which allocated more than $4 million to the task force in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 and included $2.8 million in the FY 2020 budget adopted on May 7.

Funding for the Opioid Task Force includes two detective positions in the FCPD’s organized crime and intelligence bureau dedicated solely to apprehending opioid suppliers.

According to the department’s 2018 Annual Report, OCIB detectives seized several illegal firearms and over $500,000 during narcotic-related arrests last year. The bureau’s gang unit made 125 arrests in 247 assigned cases.

Fairfax County police say the county has seen a decline in alcohol-related crashes since the department established a Driving While Intoxicated Enforcement Squad in November 2016, a trend that the department attributes to a combination of education and enforcement efforts.

The eight-officer squad stopped more than 4,900 cars, issued 2,300 summons, and arrested 360 people determined to be driving while intoxicated in 2018, according to the annual report.

While the FCPD reported progress on several issues, one area that saw an uptick in incidents was the use of force.

The department’s internal affairs bureau conducted 500 use-of-force investigations in 2018 compared to 491 investigations in 2017.

Fairfax County police’s use-of-force policy defines force as contact between a law enforcement officer and an individual that involves a physical strike or the use of an instrument such as a gun or electronic control weapon, or that restricts the individual’s movement.

Under FCPD General Order 540, any use of force while an officer is performing their duty will trigger an investigation.

Of the 500 use-of-force incidents recorded by the internal affairs bureau in 2018, 462 went to a first-line supervisor. The other 38 incidents reached the administrative level, resulting in one complaint being sustained and 32 cases ruled as in compliance with department procedures.

Five administrative use-of-force investigations remain active.

In addition to use-of-force investigations, the internal affairs bureau handled 169 internal complaints and 129 external complaints in 2018.

The bureau has published more thorough annual reports on administrative investigations and use-of-force data since 2015, but the 2018 report has not been released yet.

Established by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 20, 2016 and operational since Apr. 17, 2017, the Fairfax County Office of the Independent Police Auditor reviews internal affairs investigations into cases involving death or serious injuries as well as use-of-force investigations that are subject to a public complaint.

According to a 2018 annual report published on Jan. 31, the OIPA reviewed or monitored 18 Fairfax County police investigations in 2018, including 13 claims of excessive uses of force, three officer-involved shootings, one in-custody death, and one use of the precision immobilization technique used in vehicle pursuits.

The three shooting investigations and two uses of force that resulted in death or serious injury were automatically reviewed, but 13 auditor reviews were initiated by public complaints, all of which included a claim of excessive force.

Along with monitoring police investigations, the independent police auditor published a report on racial disparities in FCPD use-of-force statistics from 2015 on July 25, 2018.

41 percent of use-of-force incidents in 2015 involved black people, who made up about 9 percent of Fairfax County’s total population. White people constituted 62 percent of the population and were involved in 52 percent of use-of-force incidents.

Conducted at the request of Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, who serves as chair of the Board of Supervisors’ public safety committee, the OIPA review “found no discernable difference in the level of force deployed” against black versus white people when they were engaged in similar conduct, according to the office’s 2018 annual report.

The report did determine that there were some variations between the two demographics when it came to the type of conduct engaged in by subjects involved in a use-of-force incident and the force techniques deployed by police.

Noting that the review faced limitations, including limited data availability and concerns about defining racial disparities based on population estimates, the OIPA recommended that Fairfax County police analyze data on use-of-force incidents over a longer period of time and that the department collect and analyze data on race in relation to traffic stops and vehicle searches.

According to its annual report, the independent police auditor’s office is in the process of reviewing data provided by the FCPD on use-of-force incidents in 2016.

Police investigations into misconduct and abuse-of-authority allegations made against FCPD officers are reviewed by the Fairfax County Police Civilian Review Panel, which was created by the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 6, 2016 and features nine board-appointed members.

According to a 2018 annual report published on Mar. 21, the panel received 31 complaints in 2018, 25 initial complaints and six requests for investigation reviews.

That total marked an increase from the 28 complaints that the panel got in 2017, potentially due to more community outreach and education that included presentations to 16 community and civic groups, the police civilian review panel annual report says.

In its annual report, the panel recommends that the FCPD improve the transparency of disposition letters used to notify complainants about the outcome of an investigation, saying that the letters currently often lack details about the investigation or the reasoning behind the department’s conclusions.

The panel also expresses concern that confidentiality language limits its ability to share crucial information in public reports and notes that there is no process in place for panel comments and recommendations to be reviewed, considered, and implemented by the FCPD.

The 2018 Police Civilian Review Panel Annual Report includes an appeal from panel leaders to the Board of Supervisors to establish a process for addressing those concerns.

“The panel is committed to an investigation review process that fosters transparency to the public and accountability from the FCPD,” the annual report says. “A process for vetting concerns that surface through investigation reviews, public comments, and public forums is imperative for the panel’s effective discharge of its mission.”

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