Our View: Embattled police

Our View: Embattled police

There are zero dollars allocated to police body cameras in Alexandria’s 2021-30 Capital Improvement Program budget. There were zero dollars allocated to police body cameras from Alexandria’s windfall of $29.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding – in fact body cameras for police weren’t anywhere on the wish list of proposals.

It’s also well documented that the starting pay for Alexandria police lags well behind that of other jurisdictions in this region. According to IUPA Local 5, a police union in Alexandria, APD’s starting salary is $50,839.88, while in Fairfax City it’s almost 20% more, at $60,210. Apparently, even the Northern Virginia Community College’s Police Department is paid 10% more than Alexandria’s officers.

These funding facts bring two old adages to mind. The first is, “you get what you pay for.” The second is, “budgeting is philosophy.”

In Alexandria, we have a police department that is stretched to the breaking point with not enough officers to do all the tasks expected of them. It’s no coincidence that violent crime is on the rise in this city – and is seemingly getting worse by the week. While residents used to be concerned about things like auto theft or vehicle break-ins, we now have armed car-jackings and murders along with seemingly weekly shots fired incidents.

City Council’s spending decisions reveal that they do not sufficiently value our city’s police department. Instead of budgeting pay that’s competitive with our neighboring jurisdictions, our local government parrots the platitude that our police pay is “competitive.” Except it’s not.

Additionally, Alexandria’s City Council in 2021 alone voted to eliminate the school resource officer program in city schools and to create a police review board.

So, our City Council is so concerned about police misbehavior that it has created a review board, which lacks any voting positions for people with actual law enforcement experience, in the name of police accountability and oversight. But it won’t allocate any money, not even a token amount, toward purchasing body cameras that would actually document police behavior and provide tangible evidence if misbehavior occurs.

Alexandria’s Congressman, Don Beyer, (D-8) along with D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton just this week sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting body cameras for federal officers. Beyer and Norton wrote: “While some federal law enforcement agencies have begun to adopt camera programs, we strongly believe that every federal law enforcement agency should be required to do so. We believe this is a simple but necessary step to protect officers and the public.”

According to Brad Greenwood, an associate professor at George Mason University’s School of Business, there have been three significant benefits to body cameras being worn by New York City police officers: more legitimate stops are being made by police; there are fewer complaints alleging officers’ abuse of authority; and there are fewer arrests being made.

City Council’s vote to remove SROs from Alexandria schools was done over the very loud protests of several School Board members. That 4-3 vote overruled Alexandria’s elected School Board, which had carefully considered this issue over many months with input from teachers, students and parents.

These are unwise decisions being made by City Council regarding police pay, oversight and utilization.

There’s a direct line between how our police officers are treated and how safe we are. Residents might want to remember that as they watch what’s happening with crime in Alexandria – and as they ponder who to support in the upcoming City Council election.