The past few weeks have been the worst in recent memory for serious crime in Alexandria.
Since Sept. 21 there have been four shootings and two stabbings, one resulting in a death that has been ruled a homicide. Plus, a student was arrested at Alexandria City High School for possessing a handgun, and a road rage incident resulted in a driver brandishing a gun at another driver.
This is on top of the many videos circulating in the city of fights involving Alexandria City Public Schools students erupting into melees in the city’s public high school and middle schools and one of students attacking an adult patron at the Bradlee Shopping Center McDonald’s.
This is also on top of an apparent surge in property crime, particularly shoplifting, as residents have reported witnessing brazen theft from the Ross store on North Washington Street among others. This follows a wave of potentially gang-related property damage as numerous homes were recently marked with gang related symbols.
There are two inescapable conclusions to draw from this descent into lawlessness we are witnessing in Alexandria.
The first is that removing school resource officers from the main ACHS campus, the Minnie Howard campus and the city’s middle schools was an enormous mistake. This issue was temporarily rectified at City Council’s Tuesday night legislative meeting when Councilor John Chapman reversed his earlier vote to remove SROs and voted with Mayor Justin Wilson and Councilors Amy Jackson and Del Pepper to reinstate the officers through the end of this year.
The other three members of council, Canek Aguirre, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Mo Seifeldein, voted for a second time against SROs in schools.
Returning SROs through the end of this year is a good short-term measure in the midst of what has become a crisis. But this move needs to be made permanent or else it will be seen as no more than an election-year gambit.
The second unmistakable conclusion is that gangs are operating in Alexandria in a big way and with a brazenness that should be unnerving to everyone, particularly those who live in or near the Landmark Mall area, where several of the violent incidents have occurred.
“Gang” is a four-letter word, and one that many local officials are loathe to say. Aguirre downplayed the recent spate of violent crime in Alexandria during the Oct. 6 Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forum, saying “Alexandria is still one of the safest cities in the Commonwealth by far, hands down.” For our coverage of this forum, see the page 12 story, “Council hopefuls address local issues.”
A head-in-the-sand approach will not make gangs go away, nor will an ideological approach of refusing to use the word “gang.”
We are going to need more resources devoted to law enforcement in Alexandria, meaning more officers with higher pay, if we are to stop this wave of violent crime in our city. The question is: Do our elected leaders have the will to take this needed step?