The Northern VA Police Blackout

Law enforcement agencies in Northern Virginia say you have no right to know what they’re doing

Radley Balko

Last November along the roadside of Richmond Highway, a major thoroughfare in Fairfax County, Virginia, a police officer shot and killed David Masters, an unarmed motorist, as he sat in the driver’s seat of his car. Masters, who was bipolar, was wanted for allegedly stealing some flowers from a planter. He had been given a ticket the day before for running a red light and then evading the police officer, though in a slow and not particularly dangerous manner.

In January of this year, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh announced through a press release that he would not be filing any charges against the officer who shot Masters. The shooting, Morrogh found, was justified due to a “furtive gesture” by Masters that suggested he had a weapon. The only eyewitness to the furtive gesture was the police officer who pulled the trigger.

There exists dash-cam video of Masters’ shooting. There are also police interviews of other witnesses, and the police report itself. But the public and the press are as unlikely to see any of those as they are to learn the officer’s name. That’s because the Fairfax County Police Department—along with the neighboring municipal police departments of Arlington and Alexandria—are among the most secretive, least transparent law enforcement agencies in the country. And local political leaders don’t seem particularly concerned about it.

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