Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington County Police Department are hashing out their new working relationship following the School Board’s decision to remove School Resource Officers from school grounds.
Rather than place officers in school buildings, ACPD has formed an off-site Youth Outreach Unit tasked with developing engagement opportunities for and building relationships with kids. This summer, the Arlington School Board became the second in the region to remove SROs from school grounds out of concern for racial disparities in juvenile arrests.
While the new unit builds up its presence, ACPD and Arlington Public Schools are discussing their respective roles in maintaining school safety, which will be outlined in a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
“We are meeting with the Youth Outreach Officers now to determine how they will interact with students and schools during the school year,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said. “We are also beginning the process developing the new MOU ACPD/APS MOU. As part of that process, we are creating focus groups with school-based staff and administrators to further discuss the future of our SRO relationship with the shared goals of best serving our students, schools, parents and the broader community.”
Work on the new MOU began on Aug. 30, according to APS. A final draft will be posted for review on Nov. 1, at which point the community will have 15 days to provide feedback on it.
Currently, ACPD’s Youth Outreach Unit has four corporals, two sergeants and a lieutenant who also oversees the Community Outreach Units, ACPD spokeswoman Kirby Clark said. Two team members were previously School Resource Officers.
“The [Youth Outreach Unit] team was selected following a standard internal process, open to all members of the department who hold the rank of officer or corporal,” Clark said.
The unit has fewer than half the 17 officers once assigned to the SRO unit, according to a March 2021 presentation.
Members were assigned to the unit in August and have started attending community events, including the Community Conversations with the Chief and the Arlington Police, Fire and Sheriff 9/11 Memorial 5K Race, Clark said.
“While attending community events and conducting proactive engagement on a daily basis, members of the Youth Outreach unit regularly seek to have meaningful conversations, answer questions, and build relationships with community members,” Clark said.
Feedback from the community conversations will inform the Youth Outreach Unit’s “specific programs, mission and objectives,” she said.
The unit is developing educational programming that could cover topics once addressed by SROs, such as Virginia’s legal system, internet safety, cyberbullying, dating safety and substance abuse. The unit also aims to partner with community groups and organizations to host relationship-building activities, such as sports.
“Given the very recent formation of the unit, specific programs and partnerships are still in development,” Clark said.
The unit and ACPD patrol officers will continue to respond to school-based incidents, which can be reported by calling the Emergency Communications Center at (703) 558-2222 — or 911 in an emergency, ACPD said last month. Non-emergency incidents can be reported through the Online Police Reporting System or by calling (703) 228-4300.
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