Henrico earns 3 VACo awards for Fire, Police initiatives

Henrico County’s Fire and Police divisions have been recognized by the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) for initiatives that have improved diversity among entry-level firefighters, mobilized volunteers to assist a local emergency response and reduced student arrests at Henrico County Public Schools.

The Division of Fire earned two 2016 Achievement Awards from VACo in recognition of model local government programs. The Police Division received one award.

Overall, VACo honored 29 programs among 91 entries submitted by member counties across the state. Henrico, Arlington, Stafford and York counties each collected three awards, more than any other county. VACo will salute the winners of its 14th awards competition during its annual conference in November.

Fire earned an Achievement Award for an effort to help the agency attract and retain high-quality entry-level firefighters who better reflect the community’s racial, ethnic and gender diversity.

Working with the Department of Human Resources and the County Attorney’s Office, Fire reviewed and updated its hiring processes, focusing on applicant recruitment, screening, evaluation and support. The changes helped produce a 28-person recruit class that was described by training staff as exceptional and the most diverse in the department’s history.

Fire also won an award for the Henrico County Virtual Operations Support Team. VOST, established in August 2015, represents a no-cost way to enhance public-safety response by using trained volunteers to relay information, such as neighborhood concerns posted on social media, during an emergency or event. After a severe storm, for example, VOST would augment the county’s Emergency Operations Center staff by helping to identify areas needing assistance, providing photographs of damage or alerting authorities to issues that have not been addressed. VOST’s 28 volunteers served during the NASCAR races last fall, the UCI bicycle event in 2015 and the snowstorms in January.

Police earned an Achievement Award for a new policy that gives school resource officers greater discretion to avoid arresting a student for an offense at Henrico County Public Schools.

The policy directs an officer to prepare a juvenile violation report for consideration by court officials when it is reasonable, in the interests of the juvenile and his or her family, and when the safety of the community or another person is not at risk. The policy has resulted in a dramatic reduction in custodial arrests of students, from 199 in the first semester of 2014 to four in the first semester of 2015. Under the previous policy, students often were arrested for lesser offenses that could have been handled by school administrators.