The worst thing about a mistake is not usually the error itself, as everyone and every organization occasionally gets things wrong. What’s unacceptable is when the person or entity continues to deny a mistake when incontrovertible evidence stares them in the face.
We are referencing the reaction of the Alexandria Police Department to the violent attack on a woman in Old Town on the night of September 1. APD – and Chief Don Hayes in particular – have refused to admit that they erred in not notifying the public that the attack took place, and that the attacker was at large.
The department continues to insist that APD protocols were followed “to the letter,” as Hayes told City Council at the September 26 legislative meeting. He has repeatedly blamed social media and other media for “inaccuracies” – despite being given multiple opportunities by the Times to provide clarity – while totally absolving APD.
Really? Let’s parse the different pieces of proven information about this incident, because they clearly indicate that APD should have notified the public by early morning on September 2.
Here are the facts about the September 1 incident:
1. The dispatch calls from the police scanner initially referred to the incident as an “assault.” In the second call labeling it an assault an ambulance was requested because the victim suffered an injury to her face. A police officer is then heard saying the incident was being relabeled as a “robbery.”
The incident was labeled a robbery by APD from the beginning.
2. The Commander’s Daily Watch Log from September 1, which the Times obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request, refers to the incident as “Abduction/Attempt Robbery.” It also says the victim, a Black female, was “grabbed and pulled a short distance away by the suspect.” A Fairfax K-9 unit was called and CSI was notified. The report says the APD public information officer was notified and a “Command page sent” – meaning Hayes and other top officials were notified via text message that a notable incident had occurred.
A source familiar with APD operations told the Times this report should have gone to Hayes and other top APD officials within an hour of the incident.
3. The city’s crime report database lists two entries for this incident, the first is case 23-082086 and refers to the incident as a “robbery.” The second case number is 23-082086* and lists the crime as “KIDNAPPING/ABDUCTION” in capital letters.
During the September 26 City Council meeting, Hayes contradicted his department’s second report on the incident. In this meeting Hayes said, “The abduction just meant that the person wasn’t free to leave at that time. It doesn’t mean that the person was kidnapped. They weren’t kidnapped.”
4. The APD’s directives, which are posted on the City of Alexandria’s website, state in 10.21 that the following situations will be taken into account when notifying the public of an incident:
“Has a command page been issued?” It was.
“Should the public be notified for safety reasons?” The assailant was still on the loose.
“Is there a community interest due to a crime trend?” There is.
The directive later says that the public should be notified “through Facebook, Twitter, eNews, and the Police Department’s website” for:
“Stranger Sexual Assaults,” When the suspect was apprehended last week, he was charged with abduction with intent to defile.
“Robberies.” The incident was labeled as a robbery from the start.
Not immediately alerting the public that this violent abduction and robbery took place was a violation of APD’s published directives.
5. Security video that captured the incident was available by September 3, yet the owner of the video told the Times that police did not reach out to them asking to see the video until September 14.
Many questions remain about this incident. Why did Hayes not direct his PIO to issue an alert on the morning of September 3 after reading the command report? If he didn’t read the report, why not? And why did it take two weeks – and a blowup on social media – for an APD officer to watch the security video?
It’s time to stop with the denials and insinuations. APD made a mistake that hopefully won’t be repeated. Just own it.