Police officers from across Northern Virginia, including eight from Fairfax County, gathered to congratulate each other for their work in stopping drivers under the influence of alcohol on Friday morning, May 19, their badges still carrying the black band to honor their fallen comrades.
"This has been a difficult week for us," said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) during the 15th annual Awards for Excellence in Community Service and Public Safety. On Monday, May 8, two Fairfax County officers, Detective Vicky Armel and Lieutenant Michael Garbarino were shot outside the Sully District station in Chantilly. Armel was killed that day, Garbarino died on Wednesday, May 17 from his injuries.
"If there is some solace in this, it is the response of the community," Connolly said. "The bonding that has to occur between public safety and the public it serves is essential if it will work. It has been renewed, in a strange way."
A strong community is better able to look after itself, he said, and can help in reducing the number of people who drive after consuming alcohol.
With a teenage daughter at home, Connolly said he's "dreading the day she qualifies for her permit" because "teenagers seem to think they're invincible."
He thanked the dozens of officers at the ceremony, organized to honor those who lead their regions in drunk driving arrests, for their dedication to keeping Virginia roadways safe, reminding them that "two years ago, we were running a teenage fatality rate that was twice the national average."
Saying he was "proud to see" so many officers gathered at the breakfast, Fairfax County's Alcohol Safety Action Program director Elwood Jones discussed the importance of a partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the work his ASAP office is committed to carrying out.
"Each and every time you put on your uniform and badge, you're keeping our community safe," Jones said. "We don't say thank you enough."
KEYNOTE SPEAKER Bob Marbourg, a veteran traffic reporter from WTOP radio, said he's seen the changes in Northern Virginia roads for the past 20 years, from the time when I-66 was being built inside the Beltway to congestion that stretches from Gaithersburg, Md. out to Manassas.
"I'm disturbed by images in advertising, show a car full of teenagers listening to their favorite sounds while driving like a professional on a closed course," Marbourg said. "I'm disturbed by the insurance companies that show crashes are always accidents and treat moving violations as no big deal."
His biggest concern, he said, is continuing to treat driving under the influence of alcohol as a societal problem.
"We need to concentrate on breaking the connection between the supply and use of alcohol while driving," Marbourg said. "We need to look at fatalities and injuries and see it as a serious situation."
However, the efforts put forth by the officers honored are hard to measure.
"We can't measure what didn't happen because of your work, there's no way of knowing," he said.
Members of the police who work as school resource officers inside high schools have direct access to teenagers and "have the opportunity to shape their perceptions," Marbourg said.
Fairfax County Police Col. Suzanne Devlin said that, growing up, she wished the police had stopped her father, who often drove home drunk.
"I was the kid whose father never got stopped," she said. "You are the ones who draw the line and say this behavior must stop now. Without your leadership, it simply wouldn't get done."
She credited Sgt. Shawn Martin for two safe driving campaigns, including Safe December, conducted between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, organized to crack down on drunk drivers during the holiday season. During the Safe December campaign, 266 drivers were arrested for driving while intoxicated and 1,941 others were ticketed for other violations, Devlin said.
Other officers from Fairfax County that were honored include Officers Alfredo Cerna and Ryan Kaspar of the Franconia District Station; Officers Jason Krull and Richard Mukherjee of the McLean District Station; Officer David Parker from the West Springfield District Station; Officer Michael O'Brien Jr. from the Sully District Station and Office John Spata III from the Mason District Station. Detective Thomas Bacigalupi, Officer Christopher Dotson and Associate Professor David Anderson were honored from George Mason University, along with Substance Abuse Program Coordinator Susan Stahley.