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External report on policing practices in Arlington released

(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) Arlington County police created a new foot pursuit policy, updated how officers use force and pursue vehicles, and began making more data and information accessible to the public.

Those are a few of the changes at the police department in response to an external report on Arlington’s policing practices publicly released on Wednesday. Some policy updates are still being finalized.

Following a study by the Police Practices Group, a work group that reviewed the police department’s policies and made more than 100 recommendations for changes, an external law enforcement and public safety consulting firm reviewed several areas of the department and made additional recommendations.

The firm, Hillard Heintze, recommended the department create a recruitment policy, better utilize data it collects, and offer training designed for those seeking promotion or special assignments, among other recommendations. They evaluated practices and policies across internal affairs, use of force, cameras, recruitment and retention, training and supervision and data/statistics.

The department has compiled responses to the findings and recommendations, creating a number of new policies, revising others and making information they already have or collect, such as internal disciplinary actions, more readily available.

County Manager Mark Schwartz said ACPD devoted hundreds of hours to providing the firm with what they needed for the study.

“As the report noted, ACPD sets a high standard for behavior and accountability for itself, which is demonstrated by how officers interact with the community,” he wrote in a letter to the community about the report. “In addition, there were suggestions for improved policies and practices which ACPD immediately embraced once identified by HH and the PPG.”

The external review took place while some changes identified were already underway to address the recommendations from the Police Practices Group, which provided its final report early in 2021. The PPG’s report guided appropriations included in the County Board’s 2022 budget, and guided the ordinance that created a Community Oversight Board.

The PPG also influenced ACPD to revise its use-of-force policies to ensure they lined up with best practices and community expectations, according to the report. The policy was updated to include “prohibiting the use of neck restraints unless immediately necessary, clarifying officer’s responsibility to intervene to prevent or stop the use of excessive force, rendering first aid when necessary, highlighting the sanctity of life, increasing focus on de-escalation and other updates.”

Since these updates were already underway, the external firm had no specific recommendations relating to the new use of force policy but did say the department should “closely scrutinize use-of-force incidents, audit use-of-force training to ensure policy is operationalized on the street and ensure it has incorporated the new requirements into training.”

“I truly believe ACPD is an exceptional police department, but recognize there is always room for improvement,” Arlington Police Chief Andy Penn said in a statement to ARLnow. “Many of the recommendations outlined in the external assessment help move us forward in our mission to reduce incidences of crime and improve quality of life and have already been acted on by ACPD.”

“Highlights include the implementation of a Body Worn Camera program, compliance with the Virginia Community Policing Act Data Collection, participation in the Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team, expansion of our officer training curriculum, revision of policies and procedures, establishment of a Community Engagement Division and engagement with the community on the future of policing in Arlington during this summer’s Community Conversations with the Chief series,” Penn continued. “Looking forward, we are committed to continuing these advancements while working collaboratively with the Arlington community.”

Schwartz, in concluding his letter, thanked the police department for its work and willingness to make changes.

“We are a community where respect for our diversity has made us stronger and the assurance that each of us will be treated fairly by officers who day in, and day out, work at prevention, engaging with our community, and assisting our neighbors is vital,” the County Manager wrote. “The commitment to our values, which we saw most prominently a year ago this month in defending the west steps of the Capitol from violent insurrectionists, and the maintenance of trust is hard work.”

“I wanted to thank ACPD and its officer for their continued commitment to make Arlington a community where all people can live safely and be treated fairly,” Schwartz added.

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