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(Updated at 9:55 a.m.) Arlington County police say they will reduce some services as the department faces staffing challenges.

ACPD is grappling with the impacts of attrition from the department, retirements and officers leaving the force for other jobs, including private-sector security jobs at Amazon’s second headquarters.

According to the department, these staffing struggles mirror national trends.

Police Chief Andy Penn said in a video message released yesterday (Tuesday) that the department has 290 “functional” police officers — those who are able to respond independently to calls for service. Another 40 officers are in training or on light-duty status, while 46 positions are unfilled.

In 2019 and 2020, ACPD had between 313 and 334 functional officers. The current figure, 290, has not changed since ARLnow reported exclusively last September on the department’s shrinking staff in the wake of anti-police-violence protests in 2020 and due to low morale, stagnant wages and burnout.

“This significant reduction in officers significantly reduces our ability to deliver the amount of services we have traditionally provided to the Arlington community,” Penn said.

As a result, ACPD says staffing and priorities are changing in three ways so that officers can focus on follow-up investigations into more serious crimes.

First, officers will be dialing back investigations into crimes like scams with “no identifiable suspects,” hit-and-run crashes that are reported well after the fact and with little evidence to identify the striking driver, and incidents involving minor property damage that lack “solvability factors.”

Second, ACPD will continue to divert the reporting of non-emergency crimes that are not currently in progress and being reported well after the fact — such as fraud, theft, vandalism, harassing phone calls and minor property damage — to its online system. Submissions are then reviewed by an officer and, if approved, an official police report number is issued.

The portal was initially a pandemic-era invention to maintain social distancing between civilians reporting crimes and officers dispatched to respond to them.

“ACPD will prioritize follow-up investigations on crimes against people and serious property crimes,” notes a police press release. “Examples include, but are not limited to, homicide, robbery, carjacking, sex offenses, assaults, burglary and motor vehicle theft.”

Finally, Penn says vacant “specialty positions” — like community engagement and transportation safety — will not be filled for the time being, so ACPD can prioritize core services.

With the changes, Penn says he aims to give overworked officers a more sustainable work-life balance while focusing on investigating and responding to serious criminal incidents across the community. In the nearly ten-minute video, he tells residents they will remain safe despite the changes to staffing and priorities.

“Arlington remains a safe place to live, work and visit and the incredibly dedicated and professional men and women of the Arlington County Police Department work each and every day to make a positive difference in the lives of those we serve,” Penn said. “I am confident that despite our service adjustments, we will continue to work in partnership with the community and remain proactive in ensuring public safety.”

Penn says the forthcoming changes also align with recommendations from the Police Practices Group — a group the county formed after nationwide racial justice protests in 2020 — and those of an external assessment released earlier this year.

These reviews concluded, among other things, that ACPD can do more to recruit and retain officers with defined career paths, while removing officers from certain incidents like mental health calls.

The department says it remains committed to the following goals, despite the service changes.

  • Maintaining operational readiness and preparedness to respond to any public safety incident that occurs in Arlington.
  • Ensuring the orderly flow of traffic in the County while conducting transportation safety enforcement and education campaigns
  • Engaging and building partnerships with those we serve
  • Proactively recruiting qualified candidates to join upcoming academy classes with the ultimate goal of returning the department to full staffing as soon as possible

In a lengthy statement released Wednesday morning, two Arlington police employee groups said that the department’s staffing challenges stem from relatively low pay. The groups — the Arlington Coalition of Police and Arlington Police Beneficiary Association — called for an across-the-board 10% pay raise for ACPD in the upcoming county budget.

“It is time for the county board to take action to retain our current employees and attract new officers who will continue the legacy of ACPD’s high quality of service,” the groups said.

Portions of the statement are below.

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Morning Notes

ACPD Hosting Community Chats — “Chief Andy Penn appreciates the important insights our residents and businesses bring to the conversation about the role of policing. He invites community members, organizations and businesses to join him for a series of Community Conversations.” [ACPD, Twitter]

Court Rejects Rouse Estate Suit — “I want to thank Arlington Green Party Chair John Reeder for challenging Arlington County Board’s decision exactly three months to the day to deny local historic designation for the site of the since demolished Febrey-Lothrop-Rouse estate… Unfortunately just yesterday Arlington Circuit Court denied Reeder standing to sue the County, arguing that he is not an aggrieved party, because his property doesn’t abut the estate.” [Audrey Clement]

New Ballston Restaurant Sells Collectables — “If you find yourself wandering through Whino, Ballston’s new immersive art, restaurant, and retail concept, be sure to browse the limited-edition designer toys up for sale. You could get your hands on a reimagined, nostalgic Wonder Woman figurine or a quirky Sriracha-inspired vinyl sculpture that might be worth a chunk of change in the future.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Theater Company to Return to Theater — “Dominion Stage, which like most performing-arts organizations has seen its in-person events canceled during the COVID pandemic, expects to inaugurate its 71st season early next month with a performance of ‘The Bluest Eye.’ The drama by Lydia R. Diamond is adapted from a novel by Toni Morrison, and will directed by Eleanore Tapscott. Performances will run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from Aug. 6-21 at 8 p.m. at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang St.” [Sun Gazette]

High School Rowing Roundup — “High-school rowing teams had a strong showing at the spring season’s Virginia State Rowing Championships on the Occoquan Reservoir. Girls shells from Wakefield, Washington-Liberty and Yorktown high schools all won gold medals on a hot and humid day of racing near the Sandy Run Regional Park Boathouse.” [Sun Gazette]

Wakefield Grads Get Scholarships — “The Wakefield High School Education Foundation recently awarded scholarships to members of the Wakefield High School Class of 2021. Students attending four-year schools will receive $12,000 each, with others receiving $4,000. In addition, four Beitler Inspiration Scholars were named and will receive one-time grants of between $1,200 and $1,500.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: Vote for Your Favorite Dentist — There’s one day left to vote for this week’s Arlies award category: favorite dentist. [ARLnow]

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(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) A public-records request sheds light on how the Arlington County Police Department justified a change to what the public can hear via police radio channels.

The Freedom of Information Act inquiry by ARLnow uncovered documents about the department’s March change to encrypt more radio chatter. The documents cited safety and security concerns, including some related to last summer’s police reform protests and the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol.

Whereas the public — including news outlets like ARLnow and local TV stations — used to be able to hear more details about a police incident in progress in Arlington, now in most circumstances only the initial dispatch and basic information from the scene can be heard.

“Once a call for service is stabilized, it may be moved to an encrypted channel to protect the personal and confidential information of members of the public interacting with law enforcement and for tactical, operational and investigatory security reasons,” Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said in an email.

Authorities drafted a policy and created a memo in February after a workgroup focused on police radio traffic hashed out details and the department’s now-permanent police chief, Charles “Andy” Penn, wrote that he expected “questions/complaints” about the encryption.

The Feb. 23 police memo gives information about why the department encrypted an administrative channel and details that other channels were encrypted, too, including special ops for presidential and dignitary escorts and other special events, a civil disturbance unit’s operational channel, a frequently-used “talk around” channel for officers on the scenes of incident to communicate with one another, and an outreach zone channel involving school resource officers.

Authorities shared their reasoning in wanting to encrypt more channels, noting police in Illinois and Texas heard on their radios the hip-hop group N.W.A.’s anti-police song — apparently transmitted by someone with access to a radio capable of broadcasting on police channels — amid nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.

“During the summer of 2020, protests and civil unrest across the country highlighted the growing threat to public safety communications and exposed its loopholes,” one email said. “Factions in Dallas and Chicago targeted these vulnerabilities by playing music over unencrypted radio channels, preventing legitimate use. This sort of tactic threatens both public safety personnel, who rely on the radio to communicate with each other, and the general public, who are in potential danger during an incident.”

An Arlington County document also stated that the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol rioting also involved bad actors trying to gain access to police radio systems to cause disruptions. Additional details were not given in emails obtained by ARLnow, some of which were redacted.

“We also took into consideration the events of January 6 as we witnessed bad actors actively trying to gain access to radio systems to cause disruptions,” one email said.

When asked about the alleged Jan. 6 police radio incident, Savage said Wednesday in an email that they weren’t aware of this happening on ACPD’s own channels. In D.C., Metropolitan Police Department also noted they didn’t observe this.

But ACPD’s emails did cite unspecified incidents in which individuals used police transmissions to create disruptions.

“We have experienced numerous occasions where individuals created problems for first responders by having had access to information conveyed over unencrypted channels,” the department said in drafting its policy. “This includes but is not limited to people coming to scenes and disrupting or causing delays in the handling of the call.”

Without the added encryption, authorities say criminals could have advanced warning of police actions, citizens could arrive at a scene before emergency responders, and law enforcement tactics and movements could be compromised.

Savage said all dispatched calls for service, including emergencies such as an armed robbery or school shooting, are broadcast over the primary radio channel, which is not encrypted and available for monitoring by the media or interested members of the public, using either commercially-available scanner radios, online services or smartphone apps.

Savage noted the department shares information about some police incidents through daily reports, an online crime map, Arlington’s Open Data Portal, news releases and Arlington Alert for emergency notifications in the event of public safety threats and traffic disruptions.

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Morning Notes

Structure Fire Near Ballston — “Units located a detached structure on fire behind a house with minor extension to the house. The fire was quickly extinguished with no reports of injuries to firefighters or civilians. The fire remains under investigation by the Fire Marshal’s Office.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Plane Runs Off DCA Runway — “A Frontier Airlines plane slid off the end of the runway at Reagan National Airport Friday night. Flight 538 from Denver was arriving at the airport at about 10:30 p.m. when the incident happened, Micah Lillard of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said.” [WTOP]

Apparent Drowning in Potomac — “Several agencies said they called off a search for a swimmer in the Potomac River near Fletcher’s Boathouse Sunday. D.C. Fire and EMS called the situation an apparent drowning… Shortly after 3 p.m., a witness reported seeing a person try to swim the river from the Virginia side and not resurface, the fire department said. D.C. Police fire boats and units from the Harbor station, Arlington Fire Department boats and a Maryland State Police helicopter were assisting in the search.” [NBC 4, Twitter]

Arlington Ridge Water Work — From the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services: “Monday night – Tuesday morning: Water main maintenance work near S Arlington Ridge Road/Long Branch Creek could cause temporary low water pressure or service outages for nearby customers, 8pm to 8am.” [Twitter]

Sheriff Supports New Police Chief — From Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur: “Today, more than ever, police chiefs must commit to the principles of trust, accountability and transparency. I believe Andy [Penn] has demonstrated leadership in each of these areas and I look forward serving the Arlington community alongside him in his new role.” [Arlington County]

Mixed-Use Tower in Ballston for Sale — “The owners of Ballston’s tallest building are exploring its sale. Brandywine Realty Trust (NYSE: BDN) and the Shooshan Co., the developers behind 4040 Wilson Blvd., the final phase of the larger Liberty Center project, have put the $217 million tower on the market. The 23-story, 250-foot-tall building, completed last year, includes 225,000 square feet of office on the lower 10 floors topped by 250 apartments.” [Washington Business Journal]

Beyer Supports Fusion Power Research — “”If we do not pursue fusion energy, others will, and U.S. economic interests and influence will diminish as a result,” writes @RepDonBeyer in @sciam, arguing this energy tech can help the climate emergency and create #trillions of $$$ in economic growth.” [Twitter, Scientific American]

Newspaper Editor Attacked by Cicadas — From Sun Gazette Editor Scott McCaffrey’s blog: “The cicadas largely have left me alone, although two did get on my pants over the weekend and surreptitiously made it into Casa de Scotty… I gently removed those buggies and deposited them back outside so they could continue their search for love in what little time they have left on this earth. But yesterday, taking a midday walk around Falls Church, a more aggressive cicada flew right into the back of my shirt and started wriggling his (or her) way deeper in.” [Sun Gazette]

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(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) A national search for Arlington’s new police chief has ended with a familiar choice.

Andy Penn, a 29-year veteran of the Arlington County Police Department and its current acting chief, has been named as the county’s new permanent chief by County Manager Mark Schwartz.

“Andy embraces the values and important work that is needed around issues of equity, justice, and safety and will work to advance racial diversity and inclusion in all of our public safety efforts.” Schwartz said in a statement Friday afternoon. “He will bring a balanced approach to leading and understanding the issues of today and their implications for the Department’s areas of growth and opportunity.”

The police department has been without a permanent leader since September, when the former police chief M. Jay Farr retired, citing souring relations with the County Board as one of his reasons for leaving.

Schwartz also announced a pair of appointments within the police department.

Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent will now lead a newly-created Community Engagement Division within the department, and Capt. Darrin Cassedy has been promoted to Deputy Chief of Operations.

The appointments of Penn, Vincent and Cassedy come as the county is in the midst of establishing a Civilian Review Board for the police department, as well as implementing reforms recommended by a Police Practices Work Group in the wake of last summer’s national dialogue on race and police violence.

Reform advocates, like the Arlington branch of the NAACP, have said the Civilian Review Board, as proposed, is watered down as it lacks independent investigative authority.

In a statement this afternoon to ARLnow, NAACP Arlington Branch President Julius “J.D.” Spain said he was disappointed by Penn’s appointment.

The lack of transparency with citizens throughout the hiring process is striking. Supposedly a national search was conducted, yet what has occured is another example of cronyism in plain sight. Communities of color are disrespected, many of whom have suffered under Mr. Penn’s tenure as Deputy Chief of Police over the recent years. The hiring of Mr. Penn also reveals a profound insularity in county governance that needs to be offset by an empowered citizenry. This hiring decision further reinforce the need for meaningful and robust civilian oversight through a Civilian Oversight Board. As a civil rights leader, I am not satisfied with the selection of the new Chief of Police. This selection represents “Status-Quo” and has not yielded a transformational leader. Current idealisms are rooted in a culture that does not support substantive or progressive policy changes or police reform. Noteable, Mr. Penn only supports the minority opinion of the PPG CRB Subcommittee, which again, will not yield comprehensive oversight of the police department. The citizens asked for sound leadership, and the County failed to deliver.

Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti, however, said he trusts Penn to improve the department.

“The efforts to continue to improve our police department will require leadership and collaboration throughout the County on issues that range from mental health response to direct public safety work to our approach to managing 911 calls,” de Ferranti said in a statement. “I fully support the Manager’s choice of Andy Penn as our next chief as he has earned my trust and the trust of many in our community, and is the right person to lead this important work… I respectfully ask all Arlington residents to give Chief Penn the chance to earn your trust, too.”

The county’s press release about hte appointments is below.

Today, following a nationwide search, County Manager Mark Schwartz announced his pick for the top law enforcement officer in Arlington County, Chief Charles “Andy” Penn. Having started his career as an Arlington patrol officer in 1992, Chief Penn brings almost 30 years of experience providing professional law enforcement services to our community. As Acting Chief of Police over the past nine months, he has provided the necessary leadership to implement a new body worn camera program and advance new policies to align with 21st Century policing practice. This includes updating policies and practices on bias-free policing and use of force. He has also worked collaboratively with other law enforcement agencies to form the Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team.

County Manager Mark Schwartz says that “Andy embraces the values and important work that is needed around issues of equity, justice, and safety and will work to advance racial diversity and inclusion in all of our public safety efforts.” Schwartz also noted, “He will bring a balanced approach to leading and understanding the issues of today and their implications for the Department’s areas of growth and opportunity. I am confident that Andy will be instrumental in advancing partnerships across our community and similarly with regional stakeholders.”

“The efforts to continue to improve our police department will require leadership and collaboration throughout the County on issues that range from mental health response to direct public safety work to our approach to managing 911 calls,” stated County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti. “I fully support the Manager’s choice of Andy Penn as our next chief as he has earned my trust and the trust of many in our community, and is the right person to lead this important work. His commitment to listening, hard work, honest conversations, and openness will help keep our community safe. I respectfully ask all Arlington residents to give Chief Penn the chance to earn your trust, too.”

“As a longtime member of the Arlington County Police Department and our community, I am honored and humbled to be appointed to this position,” stated Chief Andy Penn. “I am committed to bringing change and transformation to public safety and working collaboratively with the community on a broad range of issues, including racial equity.”

Andy’s role as Chief of Police becomes effective immediately.

County Manager Announces New Community Engagement Division

Schwartz also announced the creation of a new Community Engagement Division within the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) aimed to strengthen the County’s commitment to public safety and enhancing relationships across our community. Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent has been selected to lead this new effort, coordinating ACPD engagement-focused units and programs, including the Community and Business Outreach Units, Arlington Restaurant Initiative, and the Homeless Outreach Program. The Division will work closely with the County Manager’s Communication and Public Engagement team and other Departments on key areas of importance.

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