Fairfax County Police Department officials recently declared a personnel emergency prompting Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity to say that the Board of Supervisors is not placing a priority on police staffing.

Currently Fairfax County Police is nearly 200 officers short of being fully staffed so shifts will increase from 11.5 to 12.5 hours and mandatory overtime, both beginning at the end of the month.

“As law enforcement communities across the nation face staffing shortages, in order to continue to provide first class service to our community, the Fairfax County Police Department is moving to a temporary staffing model of two 12.5 hour shifts while our recruiters are working hard to hire the best candidates,” said a FCPD spokesman. In addition to launching a multi-media recruiting campaign, FCPD will have increased focus on lateral officer transfers to bring experienced officers to their ranks.  

Despite several days of media coverage, the subject of staffing did not come up at Tuesday’s board meeting and Herrity said that demonstrates it’s not a priority of the board.

Saying he thinks “public safety is under attack,” Herrity called on the board to have an emergency meeting to address the situation.  

“Last fall when I emphasized that police compensation, recruiting and retention are major issues, one supervisor and the chairman said that we don’t have a recruiting and retention problem,” said Herrity. “We have a board that continues to put police staffing on the back burner while public safety committee meeting agendas are being driven by advocates.”

“I’d say we are hemorrhaging,” said the new president of county’s chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (PBA). “Officers are retiring, many so they can get a better paying job. And, there are younger officers leaving FCPD and going to the federal government.”

While the increase in hours might just seem like a one-hour increase, it’s more than that said the union president. “In reality, officers are going to be spending 13 to 14 hours at work,” he said. “There is no overlap, so if a priority calls comes out at the end of shift, or an officer is at the hospital with someone, they won’t be able to leave until they are relieved, keeping them at work for up to 16 hours not adding in their commute.” He said now there will be half the number of officers on the street that there was prior to this current staffing crisis and he forsees even more pending calls for service.

Herrity proposed a 10 percent increase in officer pay in the spring, but the average raise for uniformed merit employees is 9.31 percent, according to his staff. He said that while the budget has already been passed, the board should be looking at what can be done in the short term including retention bonuses and other incentives.

Senator Chap Peterson (D-Fairfax) said that he directed a 10 percent pay increase at the state level to all law enforcement personnel which will be phased in over the next two years. “That was specifically to catch up on lost ground to inflation and other factors,” he said.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust told WJLA that the board needs to give officers more money to retain them.

“You know, I think the board mistakenly believed that we were solving the problem when we approved the budget this year – clearly not the case,” said Foust. “They’re pushing themselves to make sure we’re all safe. We got to push ourselves to make sure we treat them in a way that makes them want to stay.”

Herrity said the board will be approving the expenditure of millions of dollars on “Board priorities” at a Sept. 13 meeting. “Unfortunately, addressing the police staffing crisis is not in the proposed package. I will be proposing an amendment to the package to address the crisis.”

The county used to advertise competitive salaries when trying to recruit police officers, but that pay had been frozen for eight of the last 15 years, two of which were during times of record revenue for the county due to increasing home prices, said the PBA president. He said they stand by the request for a 15 percent raise that members asked for last February.

“We do appreciate the board providing our members with the one or two of the steps which they lost over the last three years,” said the PBA president noting that hundreds of officers only saw a 4 percent cost of living increase, not a step increase. “My board is looking forward to having conversations with the Board of Supervisors to find solutions for these ongoing issues.”

Meanwhile, because of staffing issues residents may see reduced traffic enforcement, which Herrity said is a problem. “People feel like they can get away with breaking the rules which can tragically lead to accidents and pedestrian fatalities,” he said. “No one likes a ticket, but we need that enforcement to keep people safe.”

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