04/28/21 – Underpaid and underappreciated, cops in Fairfax County, Virginia, are asking, “Why would people want to do this job?”
Fairfax County Police Department is down 188 officers, according to Sean Corcoran, president of the Fairfax County Coalition of Police. Officers eligible for retirement are leaving, others are getting out to join higher paying federal agencies like the Capitol Police.
“The numbers are horrific,” says Corcoran.
According to the Fairfax County Fraternal Order of Police, the average starting salary for a Fairfax County cop is $52,000. The median household income in the county was $124,831 in 2019.
“We have a huge portion of our department that is significantly below where they should be when it comes to pay, and that contributes to this overarching sense that if it is not going to happen here, I’m going to go somewhere else,” says Corcoran. He says many of his cops are forced to live two or three counties away to afford a decent home.
Fairfax County is just the latest of many communities across the country facing an exodus of law enforcement – places like Portland and Baltimore face similar problems.
“We’re getting squeezed from both ends,” says an active duty 20-year veteran of the department speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We’re getting political pressure, and then we’re getting it from the general public with the current situations going on around the nation.”
Violent interactions with police are on the rise in Fairfax County and across the country, putting departments and officers under intense scrutiny.
“Officers are scared to do their jobs,” says the 20-year vet. “We don’t even know what the rules of the game are anymore.”
Across the Potomac from Fairfax County, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The bill seeks to enact sweeping police reform, including limits on qualified immunity, which protects police from civil lawsuits.
“Something that’s very critical to law enforcement across the country is the fear of losing qualified immunity,” says Brad Carruthers, president of the Fairfax Fraternal Order of Police.
Cops on the street say eliminating it would make it impossible to do their jobs, comparing it to a doctor working without malpractice insurance.
“Qualified immunity isn’t used very often,” says Carruthers. “If an officer does something wrong, they don’t qualify. That’s the key word of those two words, ‘qualified immunity.’ They do something egregious, they don’t qualify for it.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who has taken point for Republicans on police reform issues, suggests departments should shoulder the legal responsibilities for misconduct, not the officers. That is a move Carruthers supports.
Carruthers says his department is at a pivot point – a new chief, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, takes over on May 3.
“I think it’s going to be really good,” says Carruthers, “having an outsider’s perspective do a top-to-bottom assessment of the police department.”
Cops in the department are hopeful change and a pay increase will come soon after.