To the editor:
Last month, Alexandria’s Police Union IUPA Local 5 presented a forward-thinking plan to “Reinvest in policing.” The plan is a roadmap to bring this skilled, progressive and nationally accredited department into compliance with its 21st Century Policing Strategic Plan.
I applaud and support the union’s efforts, and their measured and reasoned approach to resolving legitimate issues. A commitment to the plan and the political will to achieve its intended outcomes will improve operational effectiveness, elevate modern-day policing capabilities and significantly benefit the overall delivery of police services in the city for years to come. The plan includes recommendations to:
• Fund a legitimate competitive pay structure to maintain adequate police staffing, improve officer retention and create a recruitment edge in an extremely competitive applicant marketplace. The lack of such a strategy has created what I have called “revolving door staffing” because officers are leaving for higher paying positions in neighboring departments. This destabilizes basic levels of effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of overall police services to our community.
• Fund long overdue body worn cameras for patrol officers. This is necessary to protect officers and the public. There is nothing allocated to fund police body cameras in Alexandria’s 2021-30 Capital Improvement Program budget or from Alexandria’s windfall of $29.7 million provided in the American Rescue Plan Act. Council needs to find funding for this need immediately.
• Restore funding for training that has severely decreased over the last two years. Increasing officer training in various disciplines remains front and center in the national conversation about improving policing and police community relations in America.
• Increase the capacity of the newly created Alexandria Co-Response Program that pairs specially trained police officers with licensed behavioral health clinicians to respond in tandem to calls for persons experiencing a behavioral health crisis. The compelling reasons and needs are obvious.
Achieving these important outcomes will not happen without long-term commitment instead of year-to-year reactionary approaches to things we know our police and other public safety agencies need. This will not be easy, inexpensive or possible in one budget year but positive outcomes are certainly achievable. Residents have long supported the city’s public safety departments.
Political and city leaders have also supported public safety over the years in substantial ways. But they have also fallen short in important areas such as maintaining regional competitiveness in officer compensation, which affects operational effectiveness in other areas.
The plan offered by IUPA Local 5 provides council the opportunity to commit to a work forward partnership with police representatives to achieve important public safety service outcomes. I urge them to do so.
-David Baker, former Alexandria chief of police