Arlington, VA

(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) Arlington County is creating a new group of residents, officials and police officers to review law enforcement practices in Arlington.

The 15-member Police Practices Group will conduct a review to “ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community.”

The group, which will start meeting in August, will allow “all the people who are most concerned about [police practices in Arlington] to have an airing,” Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said Friday morning. It will also “provide an opportunity for people to get all the perspectives, including hearing directly from the police… and bringing in some outside parties who can take a look at what we do and discuss best practices.”

Schwartz noted that the county has received a number of complaints about police conduct, as well as calls for police reform from groups like the local chapter of the NAACP. Prior to Thursday night’s announcement of the group’s formation, activists were questioning whether the county was stalling in their response.

Among specific, actionable items for the group to discuss are the establishment of a police civilian review board, the role of the police department in traffic enforcement, and whether police officers should respond to certain calls for mental health services and civil disputes.

Schwartz said the review will not examine mutual aid agreements with other regional police departments, like the agreement that infamously led Arlington officers in riot gear to be deployed to the White House, as a regional review is already underway. Additionally, the group will not discuss the role of School Resource Officers — uniformed ACPD officers stationed in schools — as Arlington Public Schools is already reviewing that practice, according to Schwartz.

As for the nationwide calls to “defund the police,” Schwartz said budget decision are likely to follow recommendations group the group — for instance, are as many sworn officers needed if some duties, like response to mental health emergencies, are removed. There could also be discussions about raising officer pay to better help recruit qualified officers, he added.

The creation of the group comes after local and nationwide protests over the killing of unarmed civilians — particularly Black people — at the hands of law enforcement. It also comes as Police Chief M. Jay Farr prepares to retire by the end of the year.

More from a county press release:

Following recent events involving policing and racial justice across the United States, the County Board has asked the County Manager to lead a review of police policies and practices. This review will ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community.

The first step will be an external review and assessment of current policies and practices in six key areas:

  • Review of use of Force: De-escalation tactics; lethal and non-lethal force; and, foot and vehicle pursuits.
  • Training and Supervision: Police Academy training; and training for implicit bias and crisis intervention.
  • Cameras: Both body-worn and vehicle dash cameras; and policies regarding use of this equipment.
  • Recruitment and Retention: Screening for bias; psychological evaluation; mental health programs; process for officer evaluation; promotion and leadership development programs; and compensation, including pay and benefits.
  • Internal Affairs: Statistics; structures and procedures; effectiveness through an anonymous climate survey; grievance processes; and use of force investigations.
  • Data/Statistics: Reviewing data collected for arrests and stops over the past 3 years and ensuring its consistency.

This external assessment will begin on July 20, 2020 and be led by two parties with expertise in departmental assessments, police practices, policy review, criminal justice reform and conflict analysis: Marcia K. Thompson, Vice President at Hilliard Heintze, an attorney and law enforcement practitioner with more than 20 years working in the criminal justice field; and Dr. Julie Shedd, Associate Dean at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University Carter School (see biographies below).

The themes of this assessment will be shared with the 15-member Police Practices Group (PPG) early in the fall and will support the work of the group moving forward. The PPG will begin meeting in August and will also discuss the following four important policy areas:

  • Police civilian review board – what type and approach?
  • The role of the police department in providing mental health services;
  • The role for the police department in traffic enforcement; and
  • The opportunity for alternative dispute resolution, including restorative justice & mediation.

The PPG will use the themes identified during the assessment to inform discussion and work to offer options on the four policy areas and report to the County Manager by December 21, 2020. The PPG will hold public engagement sessions to gather community input on these issues. The results will be provided to the County Manager as he hires a new Police Chief after a national search. (Note: Chief Jay Farr will be retiring before the end of this year). The information will also form the basis of potential recommendations for improvements to the County Board.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey noted that “this group will start us on a journey to tackle the important issues we face as a community regarding public safety for all of our residents. We have a fine police department in Arlington, however, it can and should be better. Arlington Police welcome the review and look forward to being a part of this important effort. These times call for a new look at how our community addresses public safety and policing.”

“I want to thank each of those who have agreed to participate in this important work,” County Manager Mark Schwartz stated. “This group will hopefully strengthen the bonds of trust between officers and residents of the County and explore the difficult issues facing law enforcement today. Our Police Department has a longstanding history of working with the community to provide professional services and a mission to treat all individuals with respect but also recognizes the need for improvements. Arlington is not immune to the challenges seen elsewhere, and I know that we will be better for the work of this group.”

The PPG’s first meeting is scheduled for August 3, 2020.

Appointments

Allison Carpenter, Deputy Public Defender, Arlington County and resident. She has worked with community agencies and organizations to reduce recidivism and promote public safety.

Cicely Whitfield, longtime Arlington resident and advocate. Cicely also serves as the Chief Program Officer for Bridges to Independence, focused on leading individuals and families out of homelessness.

David FitzGerald, member of the Community Service Board, responsible for oversight of services provided by the Department of Human Services to persons challenged by mental health, intellectual disabilities and substance use.

Devanshi Patel, local social justice lawyer focused primarily on juvenile and family law matters; Devanshi also is the Chief Executive Officer of CYFA (Center for Youth and Family Advocacy), which focuses on developing comprehensive solutions to social justice issues to improve the lives of young people and families in Arlington.

Elizabeth Jones Valderrama, Executive Director of Offender Aid and Restoration of Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church, a community-based nonprofit which journeys with specific individuals, adults and youth of all genders, impacted by the criminal legal system and also addresses “the systemic racism responsible for mass incarceration and other structural inequities in our society.”

Kathleen McSweeney, active resident and advocate in Arlington County. Previously served on the Planning Commission, serves on the Census Complete Count Committee, and chairs the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee. Kathleen also serves on the Board for Challenging Racism.

Kent Carter, Vice President of the Arlington Branch NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization committed to eliminating race-based discrimination and to ensure the health and well-being of all persons.

Kim Phillip, founding member of Arlington for Justice, a newly formed group working to bring a new era of public safety to our neighborhoods by seeking reform of Arlington’s criminal justice system.

LaTasha Chamberlain, Captain, Arlington County Police Department responsible for support service operations.

Matt Puia, Sergeant, Arlington County Police Department, responsible for police operations.

Naomi Verdugo, longtime advocate and active member of the Arlington Mental Health and Disability Alliance, group of local advocates comprised of community members living with mental illness and other disabilities, and their families.

Rodney Turner, former member of Arlington County’s Fire Station #8 Task Force and current member of the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission, is a resident of the High View Park neighborhood for 18 years and a member of the John M. Langston Citizens Association. Rodney is an attorney specializing in financial services regulation.

Saul Reyes, Executive Director of BU-GATA, an advocacy organization founded in 1992 to educate and train Latino leaders in low-income communities facing the threat of displacement. BU-GATA is also interested in addressing racial disparities in policing and other areas of public safety.

Scott Wanek, President of the Arlington Coalition of Police (ACOP), representing current and retired Arlington police officers.

Whytni Kernodle, Co-Founder of Black Parents of Arlington, focused on organizing and empowering black parents for the purpose of improving the lives and education of black children in Arlington.

Note: The County Attorney and the Commonwealth’s Attorney will also serve as ex officio members of the group and be asked to attend all meetings.

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