Thursday, July 21, 2016

Making Our Community Safer

Earlier this week, prefiling of bills resumed for the 2017 House of Delegates Session. The House Majority Caucus decided to highlight the introduction of HB 1392, a duplicate version of a measure Governor McAuliffe vetoed in 2016, which would put guns in the hands of civilians inside our schools.

It's amazing to me that Virginia's GOP still hasn't gotten the message that the myth of the good-guy with a gun has been completely debunked. As so many across the country grieve and mourn those lost to gun violence, as police unions ask for action to restrict civilians from carrying firearms openly, for the Virginia House GOP to reintroduce a bill that will put more guns in close proximity to our school children shows just how out of touch they've become.

No one is more concerned about the safety of Virginia's children than I am. The fact is, this bill does nothing to improve the safety of children.

A study of mass shootings from 2009 to 2015 revealed that 96% of these tragedies occurred somewhere other than a school. In fact, accidental deaths involving firearms are the third leading cause of death for children.

I challenge my Republican colleagues in the House to show that they really are serious about protecting children by supporting legislation to require smart gun technology, to promote the use of trigger locks, and to fund a comprehensive study of gun violence as the public health scourge that it is.

At the same time, recent news stories involving lethal interactions between the police and men of color have been heartbreaking. Here in Northern Virginia and Fairfax we also have work to do with regard to the way police are trained and when and on whom they use physical force and how much is appropriate.

On Tuesday, the Fairfax County Police Chief released a report including data that showed 40% of use of force incidents involved African American suspects, even though African Americans are approximately eight percent of the overall county population.

These statistics were reported at the recommendation of the Fairfax County Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission on which I served. This week I wanted to highlight some of the recommendations of the Police Oversight and Use of Force Subcommittees.

Like the Mental Health and CIT Subcommittee I chaired, these subcommittees presented recommendations to the Board of Supervisors after months of stakeholder meetings. Each subcommittee comprised a group of individuals representing diverse backgrounds and experiences. The recommendations were only agreed upon after long discussions, presentations from several sources, and a comprehensive review of data.

For the past few months, the Board of Supervisors has been reviewing and implementing these recommendations. A regularly updated Progress Report can be found online -

One of the most important recommendations establishes a civilian oversight committee, which would go a long way in creating a transparent relationship between the police and the community. It is important to note that an oversight committee is not intended to be a punitive measure; it’s actually a pro-police position. Accountability and oversight builds trust and confidence which in turn makes policing our communities safer and easier for officers and residents alike. Further, making it a civilian oversight committee is integral to its success.

Specifically, the recommendations included:
  • Appointing an Independent Police Auditor who will report to the Board of Supervisors to participate in and monitor Internal Affairs Bureau investigations of use of force and other serious cases;
  • Establishing a Civilian Review Panel to respond to community concerns or complaints about alleged abuse of authority incidents by the Fairfax County Police Department;
  • In addition, the Commission recommends strengthening the independent investigative ability of the Commonwealth’s Attorney (CWA) in use of force and other serious cases. The various reporting and disclosure obligations contained in the recommendations will provide for the disclosure of the information necessary for the public to judge the thoroughness, completeness, accuracy, objectivity and impartiality of the FCPD investigations of use of force incidents and complaints concerning FCPD activities.
I am a huge fan and supporter of our state and local police officers. I believe that holding them to high standards, requiring transparency, and accountability are pro-police positions that will build a rapport with the community. This will make their jobs easier, make them more effective, and improve morale among officers and the communities they police.

So, while a strong commitment exists to further improve the relationship between the police and our community, we still have much to do to fully implement the subcommittees’ recommendations. And if HB 1392 is any indication, we also have much to do to ensure that some of my General Assembly colleagues have a better understanding of how we can effectively protect our children from gun violence.