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Posted at 12:34 PM ET, 02/ 5/2011

D.C. group offers support to Fairfax police watchdogs

By Tom Jackman
Tom Jackman

The District's Office of Police Complaints, a civilian agency which handles complaints about police conduct in Washington, has offered its assistance to Fairfax County as it considers whether to launch a similar entity in Virginia's largest county.
A citizens group which formed in Fairfax last year, the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, has been lobbying for an independent agency to monitor the Fairfax police in the wake of fatal shootings and traffic accidents involving Fairfax officers. After the group actively pushed the county's Board of Supervisors to consider the idea, the board turned to Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer for his thoughts. The chief said last May he would look into a process for how such a review mechanism might be structured and report back to the board.

While the coalition was waiting for that, its founder Nicholas Beltrante, a retired Metropolitan Police Department officer, contacted the District's Office of Police Complaints for its best practices materials, as well as information on how other citizen review agencies work. The OPC's executive director, Philip K. Eure, is the immediate past president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, and said that Fairfax was one of the largest jurisdictions in the country without any form of independent police review.
Eure said Fairfax police have not contacted him, though he has extensive knowledge of how such agencies work nationwide. He has been consulted regularly by groups throughout the United States and abroad seeking to create or improve citizen oversight of police.
"The District of Columbia government and our agency," Eure said in a news release, "are ready and willing to also provide information about independent police review to Fairfax County government and police officials. As we've learned, there's a steep learning curve in this field and the District has greatly benefited from reaching out to other citizen review agencies over the years."
Merni Fitzgerald, the chief spokeswoman for Fairfax County, said Friday that County Executive Anthony Griffin was expected to make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors about forming such an entity at one of the board's two meetings in March.
Beltrante said he didn't know Eure had offered his assistance to Fairfax, and said he welcomed it heartily. Beltrante pointed to two seven-figure dollar settlements paid by Fairfax in the last year, to settle lawsuits filed by the families of people killed by Fairfax officers, as evidence that officers' misconduct imposes financial costs on county residents.

By Tom Jackman  | February 5, 2011; 12:34 PM ET
Categories:  David Rohrer, Fairfax, Police Shootings, Tom Jackman, Updates  
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