By Wafir Salih | email@example.com
On September 29, the Alexandria Police Department arrested Xavier Cooper in connection with an abduction and robbery that occurred on September 1. He has been charged with “abduction with intent to defile.”
The APD’s decision to delay public notification until September 14 – two weeks after the incident occurred – has ignited controversy, especially on social media, where residents expressed concern over the absence of an alert.
“This is terrifying,” one NextDoor user commented prior to the arrest. “And it’s made even worse by the fact that the city has chosen not to make information regarding a predator on the loose in our neighborhood available to us in a timely manner.”
On the night of the incident, according to the APD Command Report that the Times obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, a stranger attacked a Black woman at the intersection of S. Washington and Wilkes Streets at around 11:14 p.m. The assailant forcefully dragged the victim into an alley behind Firehook Bakery. Police dispatch calls indicated that a passerby intervened and alerted the police. Several officers, including a K-9 unit from Fairfax County, responded swiftly.
However, no public alert was issued on the night of nor in the days ahead. APD continues to maintain that an alert was not necessary, despite the fact the assailant evaded capture that night.
A review of APD’s policies on the police chief’s page revealed a key discrepancy. While the page for the public information office does not list “abduction” as a crime noteworthy enough for public notification, it did highlight “any robbery with serious injury.” This is at odds with the Department’s current Police Directives, specifically Directive 10.21, section M.1., which lists “robbery” without mention of injuries as a reason for an alert to “be released through Facebook, Twitter, eNews and the Police Department’s website.”
Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins brought up this discrepancy to APD Chief Don Hayes during the September 26 City Council legislative meeting.
“In Section M, it says the public should be notified when there’s a robbery, but it doesn’t say anything about there needing to be an injury,” Gaskins said. “Given our policies, how was this missed?”
Hayes declined to answer the Councilmember’s question.
“I could talk to you offline and tell you what transpired, why it transpired at that point in time [and why] there was no need for us to put out any notification as far as a safety issue because we had so many officers in the area,” Hayes said.
During the course of this year, APD has issued numerous other alerts for incidences of robbery or attempted robbery without serious injury and with a police response. Here are two examples.
On February 17, an APD alert read, “Notification: There is a moderate police presence in the 3500 block King Street. This is in response to a larceny from persons. No injuries reported in connection with this incident. APD is investigating.”
Likewise, on August 17, an APD alert read, “Notification: In response to an attempted robbery there is a moderate police presence in the 3200 block of Duke Street. No injuries were reported and one arrest was made in connection with this incident. APD is on the scene and investigating.”
A former APD senior commander who now lives out of state agreed to speak with the Times under a condition of anonymity. The former senior commander was critical of Hayes’ response and comments.
“What the chief of police should have done is say that, ‘We dropped the ball and we should have promptly put out a press release on this incident because of its serious nature.’ All those things he said during the City Council meeting – I watched his testimonies – that’s smoke and mirrors,” the former law enforcement official said. “This was clearly a robbery, clearly an abduction under the Virginia state code. And – as per the department’s written policies – should have warranted a press release.”
The former commander also said the policy listed about “any robbery with serious injury” under the public information office is not consistent with the department’s actual directives, echoing Gaskins’ line of questioning.
“They don’t even have the policies right. That contradicts what directive 10.21 says: Robbery, period,” they said.
Gaskins followed up her initial question at the September 26 meeting by asking why crimes like abduction and kidnapping are not on the list of crimes that warrant public notification. The chief again didn’t answer her question, but instead attempted to explain why the incident was not a kidnapping.
“The abduction just meant that the person wasn’t free to leave at that time. It doesn’t mean that the person was kidnapped,” Hayes said. “They weren’t kidnapped. A lot of things that are on social media did not happen from our investigation standpoint.”
However, the APD police report 23-082086* on the city’s crime database lists the crime as “KIDNAPPING/ABDUCTION” in capital letters, with kidnapping listed first.
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, in an interview with the Times, shared her concerns on the lack of an alert.
“I’m not going to say this worked out well for the victim, but it could have been a lot worse. It really could have been,” Jackson said. “That is what I’m haunted with, that what if.”
Jackson provided an analogy on the situation to highlight why releasing an alert that night was essential.
“Think of it as a child at a bus stop. … If someone tried to come up in a car and take the child and the child ran away, wouldn’t everybody want to know what car are we looking for? What was the license plate? What does the person look like? What was the color of the car?” she said.
The Times also reached out to Gaskins for further comment, but she declined to be interviewed for this story. The Times also requested interviews with Hayes and Public Information Officer Marcel Bassett and sent them a list of questions about the delayed response, but they did not respond prior to our print deadline.*
During the September 26 Council meeting, City Manager James Parajon asserted APD must have had a reason for not alerting the public about the incident.
“The officers and the leadership in the police department have the authority and the responsibility that if there is an imminent danger to our public that they will take those actions of notification or other actions to do that,” Parajon said. “And when they don’t, there’s a very specific reason why they don’t. I think that’s hard to explain because we can’t go into some of those details, but I know that’s how they operate.”
Hayes echoed Parajon’s comments, but did not elaborate further on why an alert wasn’t issued.
“If there was a danger, believe me, we would have put it out there, but we don’t want to put things out there that’s not true,” Hayes said.
The former APD senior commander we spoke with pushed back against the notion that the department could not release an alert due to an ongoing investigation.
“You have to keep the public advised in a timely manner of what’s going on without jeopardizing any ongoing investigations or potential prosecutions,” the commander said. “There is an easy way to do that. We’ve been doing it for decades. On this one occasion, they dropped the ball.”
The commander said they believe APD should take accountability for making a mistake in this incident to further the large goal of effective community policing.
“One of the whole benchmarks of community policing is cooperation and partnership. And the timely exchange of important information is an essential element of that partnership,” they said. “I’m not saying the department fails in this regard. I’m saying this was a fumble. This was a single incidence of a fumble, and what they should’ve done was stood up and admitted that and corrected their processes. You take accountability, you take responsibility. With leadership, you have both the authority and the responsibility to do these things.”
When asked what could explain an alert not being released, the commander provided a few hypotheticals.
“There’s several possible answers,” they said. “I think the most possible answer is, like I said, somebody screwed up. ‘I thought you were going to do it. You thought I was going to do it. I knew it was my job, but I had a bad cold. I was taking heavy cold pills, and damn it, I fell back asleep till 8 o’clock the next morning. But I still should have got up and said, Hey, I didn’t put anything out about this last night. I need to do it today.’”
The former APD commander contrasted his approach to accountability with that of Hayes.
“One of my tenets that I was led by was [that] the victories are the property of my officers. The defeats are my property,” the commander said. “If we screw up, I’m the one that’s responsible. If we did something fantastic, the officers are the ones that are responsible.”
Jackson agreed the lack of notification was likely a mistake by APD.
“It fell through the cracks,” Jackson said. “No one likes to say that and no one likes to admit their mistakes, even though we all do them.”
Jackson offered a kind assessment of APD and said the police department will do better in the future.
“Going forward, I think they understand what happened,” Jackson said. “And that’s why as a partner in creating that policy with us, they will be right there lockstep so that things like this do not happen again. And the public is aware of what we are all trying to do, which is keep our community safe.”