By Melissa Quinn
Last year Alexandria went without a homicide for the first time since 1970, and police officials believe the data eventually will show crime dropped to historic lows too.
“We first have the tools to do what we’re doing,” said Police Chief Earl Cook. “City government does indeed support their police department. The resources they give us, and the people they’re allowing me to hire to do the job, that begins right there. I have a lot of confidence to keep the city safe.”
Though official crime statistics will not be released until March, Cook believes the FBI-verified data will show an 8-percent to 10-percent decrease in crime — a historic low. The city’s crime has decreased steadily since 2007, and Alexandria has enjoyed lows in recent years that haven’t been recorded since the 1960s.
“We’ve never lost focus,” Cook said.
The police chief emphasized the city’s partnership with the community and various other agencies such as the Alexandria Fire Department. Cook also is proud of the department for their commitment to tackling violent crime — such as domestic violence, rape and sexual assault — which tend to lead to homicidal behavior.
“Citizens take crime seriously,” Cook said. “All of those things contribute to a safe community.”
City Hall has taken note of the accomplishment, too.
Mayor Bill Euille congratulated the police department at the new city council’s installation — and again at Tuesday’s council meeting — and noted the low crime rates spoke to Alexandria’s quality of life.
Bob Cory McNeely, 40, of Alexandria, was the city’s most-recent homicide victim. McNeely died after Fabian Johnson shot him during an argument on Wythe Street in 2011. After collapsing on a nearby lawn, McNeely succumbed to his wounds.
Johnson was arrested in Georgia not long after and pleaded guilty to the murder. He is serving a three-year, five-month prison sentence.
While Cook credits the department and partner agencies for the drop-off in crime, former Deputy Police Chief Hassan Aden pointed to Alexandria’s hot-spot policing technique as a major contributing factor.
Aden, who took a job as the police chief of Greenville, N.C., last year, began looking into hot-spot policing in 2008. Patrolling the West End, he recognized the need for a better way to address the area’s high crime rate.
“I had to go to a zone defense where I had to do something to reduce crime and started looking into hot-spot policing and learning about it,” Aden said.
After consulting with criminologists at George Mason’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, he realized the tactic would work in the Port City.
Hot-spot policing involves a micro-focus for officers as they patrol areas of the city — specifically those with significant amounts of incidents.
“The hot-spot policing is the reason why crime is reduced,” Aden said. “There are other components, but this is the foundation.”
After enacting the strategy in the city, the department began seeing a decrease in crime rates, and for Aden, a year without any homicides is the culmination of three years of hard work.
“It’s a significant accomplishment,” he said.