Last week’s column highlighted data contained in Fairfax County’s recently released 2019 Demographics Report, and I promised to discuss policing challenges in our older, richer, and more diverse community. Fairfax County’s police department is considered one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the nation, but demographic changes in a jurisdiction of our size demand fresh approaches to crimes of opportunity, as well as expanding on traditional police services.
As the county population ages, the police department handles more missing person calls because of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Despite best efforts of caregivers, elderly persons afflicted with these conditions sometimes wander away, or get lost just doing everyday activities. Sometimes, when the police helicopter is flying circles over a neighborhood at night, it is using special equipment that can detect body heat in the dark, often leading to a rescue of a lost family member. I recall the tale of a constituent’s elderly relative ending up in Connecticut after getting lost while driving in the New York City area. When she saw a car with a license plate similar to hers, she simply followed it, hoping it would get her to someplace familiar. It didn’t, but the story had a safe ending, as local law enforcement was able to reach relatives, who quickly came to collect her and take her home (and probably took her car keys, too).
A more affluent community also attracts more financially sophisticated crimes, or scams, perpetrated on unsuspecting residents. The Social Security Administration will not contact you by phone to “suspend” your Social Security number, although three messages on my cell phone in the past week have threatened to do just that — don’t respond, don’t press 1, just hang up! The police department will not call to collect on parking tickets. If someone asks you to buy gift cards and give them the serial numbers, don’t! It’s a popular scam to relieve you of money — sometimes thousands of dollars’ worth. A more affluent community also may see a potential increase in property crimes, such as expensive cars left unlocked or packages delivered to a front porch. These are crimes of opportunity that easily can be avoided. Lock your vehicle and arrange for delivery to your office or a trusted neighbor. If you think you have been the subject of a scam or property crime, call the police non-emergency at 703-691-2131, and ask for an officer to respond.
The police force in a more diverse community needs to reflect that diversity in its communications and in its officers. In Fairfax County, that means an increased emphasis on recruiting based on language skills, as well as cultural background. Many officers are bi-lingual, with some speaking several languages, so that they can communicate directly with residents in the language with which they may be more comfortable. People needing police services may face increased stress or fear, which can make even simple conversations fraught with tension and misunderstanding. Patience, communication (both body language and spoken word), and cultural awareness are skills that today’s police officers must have. Fortunately, in older, more affluent and more diverse Fairfax County, those skills are practiced every day.
(Thanks to the Mason District Police Station and 2nd Lt. Marques Lowery for some of this information, which was presented to the Citizen Advisory Committee earlier this month.)