To the editor:
Over the last few months, the role of law enforcement within the community has become a frequent topic of discussion. The death of George Floyd during an encounter with the Minneapolis Police Department, and several subsequent high-profile incidents, have created public scrutiny of law enforcement as a whole and a re-evaluation of the profession, including the duties and responsibilities of our law enforcement officers and the standards and practices of the agencies that employ them.
Immediately following the Floyd incident, the Alexandria City Council voted to create a community police review board, much to the surprise of the hundreds of Alexandria police officers. Such a board is typically created after a police department suffers from questionable uses of force, an increase in crime or officer complaints or a lack of accountability or transparency in dealing with the public.
The Alexandria Police Department has long been a beacon of honor, respect and accountability to the residents and visitors of the city. It is vital that Alexandria residents and council members have a thorough understanding of the high-quality work that the men and women of the police department provide daily so they may make an informed decision on the scope of the proposed board.
We invite City Council to attend the police citizens’ academy and participate in the department’s ride-along program to gain firsthand insight into this unique profession. This significant decision should be based solely on facts and be absent of emotional influence of outside events or prejudice toward the profession of law enforcement itself.
In calendar year 2019, Alexandria Police Officers responded to 80,928 calls for service and arrested 4,316 subjects, just 28 of which required some level of force. That means just .0003% of the calls for service resulted in a use of force. After each use of force incident, the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal police unit staffed by veteran investigative supervisors, completes an investigation to determine if the force was justified.
Each of the 28 incidents in 2019 was deemed appropriate. More information about these incidents are available on the police department’s website and are shared with the Human Rights Commission as well.
From 2015 to 2019, APD Officers responded to an average of 78,744 calls for service with an average of 103 formal complaints, just .001%. This miniscule number is a result of the high ethical standard our officers exhibit with each citizen contact. Additionally, a majority of these complaints were generated from within the agency itself. This means employees and supervisors are holding each other accountable for their actions.
We also point to the most recent Alexandria Community Livability Report, in which residents were questioned about Alexandria’s quality of life and government programs. The survey revealed that the community:
“… felt positively about their interaction with most rating their experience as excellent or good. Survey respondents were also satisfied with the relationship between the department and the community, as most residents assessed the police department’s ability to collaborate with the community to address crime, respond to resident concerns and foster positive relationships positively.”
Part 1 crime, what the Department of Justice deems the eight most serious offenses, dropped more than 25% from 2009 to 2019 in the City of Alexandria. This occurred while the population in the city increased by approximately 20,000 people. Alexandria has also frequently been deemed one of the safest cities in America by various national surveys.
The Alexandria Police Department has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies for more than 30 years. CALEA requires that the department remain in compliance with more than 480 professional standards.
As mentioned, the department also staffs a highly qualified OPR staff that investigates allegations of officer misconduct and excessive force complaints. The Virginia State Police handles all officer-involved shooting investigations and the Alexandria Human Rights Commission has the ability to investigate complaints of racial or gender bias.
The directives that govern officers’ standard of conduct are on the department’s website and available to view by anyone at any time. This includes our use of force directive.
The decision to direct the city manager to create the community police review board. happened just days after more than half a dozen vigils and protests occurred in the city, ranging from one hundred to several thousand attendees. The APD attended each rally to provide security for the attendees to exercise their First Amendment rights and as a symbol of solidarity with the community. At a time when tensions were high and all eyes were on us, we responded admirably, navigating each event with poise and professionalism, traits that are expected of an employee of the APD.
Regardless of what is decided with the scope and authority of the review board, Alexandria police officers will continue to provide the highest quality of policing to its residents. We ask that City Council make reasonable, appropriate decisions based on facts specific to residents and employees of this city, not create a superfluous program in attempt to make an example of our department.
-Lt. Marcus Downey, president, IUPA Supervisor’s Chapter; Ofc. Oscar Olland, president, IUPA Chapter 5