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EXCLUSIVE: Arlington’s Police Force Is Shrinking

Police at Peace Officers Memorial Day ceremony in 2019 (file photo)

(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) The number of sworn police officers on the streets in Arlington has dipped below 300 amid retirements and officers leaving for more lucrative positions, including at Amazon’s HQ2.

Multiple sources within the department have expressed concern about the shrinking police force, telling ARLnow that officer morale is low and stagnant wages have led many to consider leaving. Among those departing is a deputy chief, said to be among a number of officers who have taken security jobs at HQ2.

“There is a mass exodus from within the Arlington County Police Department,” said one of several people inside the department who have reached out to ARLnow, on the condition of anonymity. “Many officers are leaving for better paying positions in the private sector, including Amazon HQ2… the county hasn’t provided a pay raise in roughly three years.”

“The police department is currently severely understaffed,” said another tipster. “Morale is extremely low. Based on survey results, another 40+ officers plan to leave before the end of the year. I hate to say it, but the police department is a sinking ship right now.”

ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage acknowledged that while the overall number of officers is little changed since a 2018 restructuring prompted by staffing challenges then, the number of sworn officers actually out on patrol is, in fact, down at the moment — and below the 300 mark.

“ACPD’s authorized strength is 376 sworn officers with 10 of those positions frozen during the FY 2022 budget,” Savage said. “Currently, our on-board sworn staff is 346 officers. Functionally, we are operating below this number as approximately 45 members are in a training status to become a solo police officer and 10 are on light-duty assignments due to medical needs.”

Arlington County Police Department staffing (via ACPD)

Savage noted that police departments across the country are facing staffing challenges amid the pandemic and in the wake of anti-police-violence protests last summer following the killing of George Floyd.

“Law enforcement agencies across our region and the U.S. are struggling to retain qualified police officers and finding it equally challenging to recruit new members to the profession,” she said. “Here in Arlington, the police department completed a strategic restructuring in 2018 due to a significant reduction in our workforce. Since then, we have been successful in hiring larger classes of recruit officers, but this has not offset the number of departures due to attrition, retirements and officers seeking other opportunities.”

Police departments in Alexandria, Baltimore and elsewhere have reported similar issues with low staffing levels.

“The department continues to prioritize core services by responding to in-progress crimes and emergency calls for service where there is an immediate threat to life, health or property; investigating crimes against people and serious property crimes; and engaging and building community partnerships with those we serve,” Savage said. “There are currently 23 recruit officers in training who will be released to solo patrol at the beginning of November. At that time, we will review our allocation of resources to determine if they meet current staffing requirements.”

But officers are continuing to leave the department, sources tell ARLnow.

At least two officers announced their resignation since Wednesday night, we’re told. A recent survey conducted by Arlington’s police union found that nearly 100 officers — about 40% of respondents — are planning to leave ACPD within a year.

One department source called the figure “staggering.”

Internal Arlington Coalition of Police union survey about officer departures, obtained by ARLnow

The Arlington Coalition of Police declined comment for this article.

Senior commanders are among those leaving. Savage confirmed that “a retirement at the Deputy Chief level is anticipated on Friday, September 24.” She declined to name the person retiring, but multiple sources said it’s Adrienne Quigley, who last year became the department’s only female deputy chief. She’s leaving for Amazon, the sources said.

An Amazon spokesperson declined to speak to specific hiring decisions, but we’re told the the company is indeed hiring former police officers for security positions at the new second headquarters.

Quigley was appointed by Chief M. Jay Farr, who retired last fall amid what he characterized as disagreements with the Arlington County Board. Farr’s successor, department veteran Andy Penn, lauded the dedication of Arlington’s police force amid the staffing challenges, which he called “not sustainable.”

“Despite the recruitment and retention challenges, we are very fortunate to have dedicated officers who continue providing high quality law enforcement services while taking on additional workloads to help fill our vacant shifts, staff special events and work extra details to maintain public safety,” Penn said in a statement. “This additional workload has caused stress and occupational fatigue during an already difficult time for frontline employees during the pandemic.”

“I recognize it is not sustainable to continue to ask our officers to take on additional responsibilities,” he continued. “Our Human Resources Management Section continues to proactively recruit qualified candidates to join upcoming academy classes with the ultimate goal of returning the department to full staffing and ensuring a better work-life balance for current officers.”

One department source said burnout isn’t the only worry — the lack of officers is also a significant safety concern.

“I worry about our safety and the safety of the public due to our limited operational capabilities,” the tipster said. “I know our Chief is doing all he can, and he has our support, but the County Board and County Manager need to act.”

County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti says the Board is aware of and working to address the police staffing challenges.

“The Board is aware of the challenges we are facing,” he said Friday afternoon, in a statement to ARLnow. “We value the important work our police officers do to serve Arlington.”

“County revenue was greatly impacted by the pandemic and forced us to limit our salary increases [for all county employees] to a merit increase of 1% and a one-time bonus,” de Ferranti continued. “We very much wanted to do more when we adopted the budget this past Spring and are aware that amount is not enough, given the importance of ACPD’s work. We also know that the need to invest in our officers has increased and we hope that we are able to address this issue over the coming month.”

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