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Is the Fairfax County Police Department corrupt? We’re now in Day 4 of local and national reporters trying to get the answer to that question. All Fairfax County has done so far is exercise its right to remain silent and ask for a lawyer.
The claims, outlined in a lawsuit, are that police officers protected a human trafficking ring in exchange for sex. The suit also accuses the former police chief of trying to cover this up when a detective’s work threatened to blow the whistle on the operation.
That’s serious stuff. I don’t know if any of it’s true, but I’m sure the Fairfax County Police Department knows. Some answers from the department would provide context and allow the public to get a better grasp on the seriousness of the claims. The problem is the current leadership in Fairfax County doesn’t think its citizens are worthy of knowing the truth. This is the same tactic used after a Fairfax County officer shot and killed John Geer in 2013.
Thanks to honest officers coming forward, investigators knew almost immediately they were dealing with a bad shooting. The problem was the leadership of both the Fairfax County Police Department and the Fairfax County Government immediately worked to cover it up. It took more than a year of dogged reporting by The Washington Post’s Tom Jackman and orders by a judge to finally learn what happened the day Geer was killed.
In the aftermath of the Geer debacle, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission. I was one of the commissioners and helped write the communications subcommittee report. Instead of following our blueprint for an open and transparent communications process, Fairfax County is now using the same plan that failed so miserably eight years ago. It’s an insult to all of us who worked hard over many months to change the status quo and to the people the Fairfax County Police Department serves.
“The County does not comment on pending litigation” is not an acceptable response when the allegations are as serious as these. That answer to reporter Tom Fitzgerald yesterday (Wednesday) shows – just as in the Geer response – Fairfax County’s lawyers are still calling the shots. It comes from the mistaken belief that the number one goal must always be to protect against liability and a big pay day for the victims.
It’s an enormously shortsighted plan. Instead, they should be listening to the communications professionals – and Fairfax County has some very able ones. Each of them knows that the trust of the people in their police department and government is something you can’t put a price tag on.
Despite the cover-up, John Geer’s family still came away with an almost $3 million settlement. Did Fairfax County’s leaders suddenly forget that fact? Did they forget the only thing the silent treatment did in 2013 was create more grief for Geer’s family and friends and seriously impact the image of Fairfax County?
So, I’ll ask the question again: Is the Fairfax County Police Department corrupt? Silence is one way to answer that question. History shows it’s not necessarily a good way.