Police Shootings Stir Local Activist

Not long after a still unnamed Fairfax County Police officer fatally shot an unarmed motorist named David Masters last November at a traffic light in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C.,  I received a telephone call and letter from Nicholas Beltrante, an 82 year-old, former D.C. police officer, longtime private investigator, World War Two veteran, and frequent appointee to various criminal justice advisory boards in our area.
Beltrante had read a piece that I’d written in the Washington Post about the shooting of Masters, whose family said he had a mental illness, and Beltrante felt the Fairfax Police Department needed someone to begin looking over its shoulder.
Most of its officers were professional, he was quick to add,  but there were obviously some whose actions were suspicious. Since 2006, Fairfax officers had shot and killed nine people and a 10th person recently was shot twice in the chest at close range but survived.  [That young man also had a mental illness.] Beltrante noted that the Fairfax County Police had a history of refusing to disclose information about shootings, such as the names of the officers who were involved and what, if any, internal disciplines had been handed out. Other police departments were more forthcoming.
Completely on his own, Beltrante began contacting groups such as the local NAACP branch, the ACLU, the National Police Accountability Project in Boston and the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, and also began telephoning reporters.  His goal was to create a citizen watchdog group to oversee the Fairfax Police and make certain its officers were well trained and followed the rules. As a former D.C. officer, Beltrante was familiar with the D.C. Office of Police Complaints, which was established in 2001 and often is used as a national model. It has subpoena power and independent investigators who can dig out information about suspicious cases that a police department might wish to cover up.
Beltrante has not let any grass grow under his feet since he first contacted me.  He held an organization meeting in April to whip up community support and on Wednesday, June 23, between 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., he is going to preside over another meeting of the Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability in the Sherwood Hall Regional Library, conference room #4, at 2501 Sherwood Hall Lane, Alexandria, Va, 22306. The meeting is open to anyone.
According to Beltrante, Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova informed him in a June 1st letter, that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County Chief of Police David M. Rohrer are considering his request that the board appoint a citizen run complaint review committee. How serious they take it, may depend on how much pressure Beltrante continues putting on them.
I have been complaining for months about the lack of Crisis Intervention Team training inside the Fairfax County Police Department. CIT has proven to save lives and improve police departments and their relationships with the mental health community. I hope our local Northern Virginia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and other mental health groups will be attending Beltrante’s meeting.
As I have written before, one person can make a difference and Beltrante certainly is leading the charge in my community. If you live in Fairfax County and want to learn more about Wednesday’s meeting or his efforts,  click here. You can also read on that website about the police actions that have troubled the group.
You can also read a story written by the Post’s Tom Jackman about Beltrante and his efforts by clicking here.
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.