New Group Calls for Police Reform in Arlington

(Updated at 2 p.m.) A newly-formed group is calling for a sweeping set of police reforms in Arlington, including cutting the police department budget by 10%.

Arlington for Justice, whose founding steering committee members include Arlington’s top public defender and a prominent local Black Lives Matter organizer, published an open letter to the Arlington County Board over the weekend.

Among other things, the letter calls for:

  • Reallocating “at least 10%” of the Arlington County’s Police Department’s $74 million annual budget, then freezing the budget for five years
  • Using the budget savings to fund pre-arrest diversion programs, mental health services and addiction treatment
  • Removing School Resource Officers from schools
  • Require continuous use of body cameras and dashboard cameras by ACPD
  • Make the disciplinary history of officers publicly accessible
  • Establishment of a “Justice Transformation Commission… to manage the implementation of these recommendations”

The letter also calls for ACPD to conduct a national search for a new police chief “who is committed to justice system transformation, eliminating bias, and implementing new methods of policing.” A police spokeswoman confirmed to ARLnow that current chief M. Jay Farr “will be retiring from his position at the end of 2020,” as stated in the latter.

On Friday, County Board member Christian Dorsey appeared on WAMU’s Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi and discussed the police reform movement, which has received momentum locally after ARLnow broke the news of Arlington officers in riot gear assisting U.S. Park Police near the White House. (The officers were quickly pulled out of D.C. after helping to clear the way for a presidential photo in front of a church.)

“We’re getting a lot of letters from people with the defund the police calls,” Dorsey said. “I will just note that the budget for the police department over the last eight, nine years has risen only slightly higher than the rate of inflation. And, you know, of the 74 million, most of it, all but about 7.5 million, is tied to personnel [and a] substantial amount of that is devoted to community policing efforts.”

“So, when it comes to what you defund, I think you first look at any tactical weapons and gear that are not necessary to meet your police obligations, and we don’t have a lot of that in Arlington,” Dorsey continued. “We have very much looked on an annual basis to make sure we’re not prioritizing the spending on weapons and toys and things like that that create militarized police forces.”

Dorsey added, in response to a question from co-host Tom Sherwood, that calls to defund the police “will be weaponized” politically against Democrats.

“Let’s rethink policing, let’s restructure it and let’s take any savings and reinvest it in people,” he said. “That, unfortunately, is a little bit longer than defund the police. So, we’ve got this catchall slogan which will be weaponized by other folks. And I think that’s something that people need to be very wary about.”

More on the group and the reforms it is seeking is below, in a press release.

Today, local criminal justice reform proponents in a newly formed coalition, Arlington for Justice, called on the Arlington County Board to reform the county’s police department. In a letter released today, Arlington for Justice urged the county board to undertake a nationwide search for a new police chief and reduce the county’s over-reliance on policing. Arlington for Justice’s recommendations include:

  • Removing School Resource Officers from schools
  • Ending policing of minor offenses, such as fare evasion & marijuana possession
  • Reallocating resources from law enforcement into investments in community
  • Creating alternatives to calling police, diversion, health & mental health programs
  • Establishing a community oversight board & Justice Transformation Commission

In the letter, the coalition condemns the recent police murders and cites concerns about the Arlington County Police Department’s role in the June 1, 2020 removal of protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, DC stating that, “It raises serious questions about the use of mutual aid agreements, and more fundamentally, about the role of law enforcement in our community and how resources are allocated to meet the most basic needs of residents in our community.”

Arlington for Justice works to bring a new era of public safety to Arlington’s neighborhoods by seeking reform of Arlington’s criminal justice system.  The group fights for investing in the strength of Arlington’s families and the future of its children by addressing issues related to addiction and mental health treatment, the criminalization of children, and over-policing of Black communities and communities of color. The organization was founded by Steering Committee Members Whytni Kernodle, Yolande Kwinana, Anika Kwinana, Atima Omara, Kim Phillip, Gabriela Uro, Liz Ryan, Rachel Collins, Brad Haywood, and Michelle Woolley.

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