Arlington County has created a new youth program aimed at diverting young people who commit crimes from the criminal justice system.
The program, called “Heart of Safety,” is the first county program established to find alternatives to prosecution in certain misdemeanor and felony cases committed by juveniles and young adults, according to a press release from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the top prosecutor for Arlington and the City of Falls Church, announced today (Tuesday) that she signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Services Unit and a county initiative called Restorative Arlington to found Heart of Safety.
Restorative Arlington began in 2020 to introduce to the public schools system, legal system and community new ways of holding people accountable for their crimes without putting them through the court process.
The founders of Heart of Safety say it will give victims a say in what they need to feel that justice has been served, while holding those who committed the crime accountable and reducing future crimes in the long run.
“Heart of Safety is about survivors’ rights, youth rehabilitation, and crime prevention; for survivors, it’s the peace of mind of taking charge of their recovery; for young people, it’s a second chance to make right what they did wrong; and for the community, it’s an investment in crime prevention,” said Dehghani-Tafti, who campaigned on a justice reform platform in 2019.
People who commit crimes and victims can volunteer to resolve their case through a conferencing process. Either the victim or the person who committed the crime must be 26 or younger when the incident took place to participate.
Cases have to be identified and deemed appropriate for the conferencing process, which is overseen by a trained facilitator. This person talks with both parties to listen to their experiences, understand what they need and determine if they should meet. If so, the facilitator brings the participants together to draft a restoration plan and follows up with them later to ensure they completed the plan and are satisfied with the outcome.
If this process doesn’t resolve the case, the Commonwealth’s Attorney can open a prosecution case.
“Heart of Safety embodies the priorities and interests of our community and is in full alignment with best practices in restorative justice diversion,” Restorative Arlington Executive Director Kimiko Lighty said. “We are grateful to be able to offer this long-awaited option for people who have been harmed in our community.”
Restorative Arlington worked with volunteers — victims of crimes, formerly incarcerated persons, teens and young adults — over the course of two years to establish Heart of Safety, according to the county.
Leaders of Restorative Arlington, meanwhile, are working with Arlington Public Schools to draft an agreement that would allow schools to refer students directly to Heart of Safety. The county says this will allow schools to hold students accountable for wrongdoing while keeping them out of the criminal justice system.
“Restorative Arlington’s Heart of Safety program will provide a great new option for diverting some youth from the traditional court process,” said Earl Conklin, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Services Unit Director. “It is an alternative model that has proven successful for both the youth and those who have been harmed.”
New Organ Debuts Tomorrow — “The new organ [at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Virginia Square] cost $1.2 million… Opus 28 arrived in Arlington on Oct. 3, 2021. For three weeks, Pasi put together the 500,000 parts that constitute it. He spent the next two months ‘voicing’ the organ: doing the painstaking adjustments necessary to make everything sound just right.” [Washington Post]
Reminder: Pizza Boxes Can Be Composted — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “There’s No ‘I’ in Food Scraps: Arlington viewers of ‘The Big Game’ can give 110% and go all in in the green curbside cart: pizza crusts and boxes, wing bones and greasy napkins. You won’t be denied.” [Twitter]
County Helping With Museum Renovations — “As efforts begin to renovate its museum, the Arlington Historical Society is working to embrace close collaboration where possible with the Arlington County government. Whether that will turn into a financial partnership remains to be seen, but county staff will be providing their knowledge to help the renovation move ahead.” [Sun Gazette]
Public Defender Pay Bill Fails — “A measure to equalize pay between staff of Virginia prosecutors and those working in public-defender’s offices died in a House of Delegates subcommittee. The measure, patroned by Del. Alfsono Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax), would have required localities that supplement the compensation of staff in its office of commonwealth’s attorney beyond state minimums to do the same for staff of a public defender’s office, if a locality has one.” [Sun Gazette]
Nearby: Scammers Impersonating Police — “Officers have received reports from community members who stated that callers contact them claiming to be members of a police department or sheriff’s department. The law enforcement impersonator may… tell the community member they missed a court appearance or jury duty [and] state they need to send money or a warrant will be issued for their arrest or they may turn themselves in to jail.” [City of Falls Church]
Snow Possible This Weekend — “Light to moderate snow could fall in the D.C. area on Super Bowl Sunday. But it’s still not clear whether it will snow hard enough or be cold enough for it to amount to much and have serious effects on the region.” [Capital Weather Gang]
It’s Thursday — Sunny, with a high near 55 today, and wind gusts as high as 21 mph. Sunrise at 7:04 a.m. and sunset at 5:40 p.m. Sunny again tomorrow, with a high near 57 and wind gusts as high as 22 mph. [Weather.gov]
Arlington’s top prosecutor just got a boost from the U.S. Department of Justice to continue pursuing criminal justice reforms.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded $340,000 to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, led by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. This is the maximum grant allowed through the bureau’s Innovative Prosecution Solutions program, according to a press release.
The $340,000 will fund two new positions, including one for someone trained in social work, the release said. It will support work to train facilitators in restorative practices — intended to reduce the length of incarcerations, at least in some cases, while also providing justice to the victim — and identify which D.C.-area restorative services and diversion programs produce the best public safety outcomes.
“It’s a game changer because it allows us to develop partnerships with diversion programs across the Metro area, for the first time, both in service of developing opportunities and reducing recidivism, incarceration, and racial disparities,” Dehghani-Tafti said.
The office will also hire a data expert and purchase software needed to analyze data about prosecutions, including how cases are resolved. Dehghani-Tafti campaigned on using data and evidence to drive criminal justice reform.
“It also gives us the capacity for evidence-based prosecution and evidence-based diversion decisions,” she said.
This grant will fund these positions and activities through June 2023, according to the release.
“This grant acknowledges and supports the work of local prosecutors trying to transform the criminal legal system,” said Dehghani-Tafti, who successfully ran on a criminal justice reform platform in 2019, in a statement.
Additional statements from the press release are below.
“I applaud the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s efforts and office for applying and obtaining funding under the DOJ’s FY 2021 Smart Prosecution–Innovative Prosecution Solutions Program,” stated Julius D. “J.D.” Spain, Sr., President Arlington Branch NAACP. “In efforts to focus on mediation and agreement rather than punishment, our community needs alternatives to traditional discipline. This additional funding will assist in developing effective strategies, enhancing our Restorative Arlington Program, and combating and prosecuting violent crime in Arlington.”
“Black Parents of Arlington commends the Commonwealth’s Attorney and her office for taking this important step to develop effective, economical, and innovative responses to crime within our jurisdiction,” said Whytni Kernodle, Co-Founder and President, Black Parents of Arlington. “These funds should help reduce rather than exacerbate racial disparities that are particularly harmful to young Black males, while helping to reduce crime and increase public safety for everyone in our community.”
“This funding will allow us to leverage the innovative and data driven work that Parisa’s office has been focused on since day one to increase efficiency, security and safety for our community,” said Kimiko Lighty, Coordinator, Restorative Arlington. “This grant award is an endorsement of the collaborative spirit that system partners here in Arlington have prioritized and we will all benefit from the investment in updated data systems and coordinative personnel.”
At the same time, her tenure has seen some controversies. She has been the target of a recall effort, which cites increases in certain crimes such as carjackings — though the same data also shows a decrease in violent sex offenses and a relatively low homicide rate.
Arlington’s Human Rights Commission is honoring four organizations and two individuals for their contributions to diversity and human rights over the past year.
Recipients include a seven-decade-old church in Arlington Ridge, the Arlington Branch of the NAACP and a community activist in the Halls Hill neighborhood.
A virtual celebration for the honorees will be held on Thursday, Dec. 9.
The James B. Hunter Human Rights Awards are given annually to individuals, community groups, non-profit organizations and businesses that best exemplify “outstanding achievement in the area of human rights and diversity made in Arlington County.”
The award is named after the former County Board member who championed the 1992 amendment to county law that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Hunter died in 1998 at the age of 58 due to cancer.
Now in its 22nd year, the 2021 James B. Hunter award winners are Advent Lutheran Church, Arlington Thrive, the Arlington branch of the NAACP, Offender Aid and Restoration, Aurora Highlands resident Les Garrison and Langston Citizens Association president Wilma Jones Killgo.
Advent Lutheran Church (ALC) is located in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood and was first established in the 1950s.
“ALC willingly puts on the mantle of servant leadership and continually answers the call to help those in need, advance diversity, and advocate for human rights on behalf of the residents of Arlington County,” the press release says about why the church is being honored.
Arlington Thrive provides residents in need same-day, emergency financial assistance. The organization has been on the forefront helping the most vulnerable during the pandemic, providing a “safety net” for those who lost their livelihoods.
This year’s award also recognizes the Arlington branch of the NAACP for its recent work advancing racial, economic justice and equality. The organization called on the county to investigate an inmate’s death at the county jail, to fix conditions inside of the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike, and to change the county’s previous logo depicting Arlington House, the former home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“The award is validation that our all-volunteer organization is bringing crucial social justice issues and impacting the forefront,” branch president JD Spain, Sr. tells ARLnow, while noting that there’s still much work to be done. “So we thank the committee for the award and look forward to joining hands to create a better future here in Arlington.”
Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) is a five-decade-old nonprofit that provides a re-entry readiness program for those who have spent time at the county jail, amongst a host of other services.
“Racial equity and an authentic commitment to dismantling racism in Arlington flow through every aspect of how OAR operates — from service delivery to legislative advocacy to internal operations to community education and even to fundraising strategies,” said a press release about the awards.
Les Garrison of Aurora Hills is a long-time civic volunteer who worked to provide residents access to COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and food throughout the pandemic. His work to coordinate has been a “a beacon of selflessness and optimism for Arlington.”
Wilma Jones Killgo is a fourth-generation Arlingtonian who wrote a book about her childhood in Halls Hill, also known as High View Park. She’s a community activist, a fourth-term president of her civic association and a passionate voice for her neighborhood.
It’s the latest step in a complicated dance for the congressman, facing a new primary challenger, as Democrats nationwide grapple with how to balance public safety concerns with outcry over police killings and accusations of brutality.
“The ‘defund the police‘ slogan is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard,” Beyer told ARLnow, adding: “I do think it’s completely fair and appropriate to continue to look at ways of making policing more effective.”
The cry to cut police funding took center stage last year after the murder of George Floyd. Advocates say the slogan is part of efforts to shift resources away from heavily militarized police departments to housing, mental health programs and other services.
Beyer said police reform can include making how much departments spend to settle with victims of police brutality more transparent, which is part of the Cost of Police Misconduct Act. But generally, Beyer’s approach to police reform includes more carrots than sticks.
Part of that approach is evident in the Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act authored by Beyer, which offers grants to police departments for reporting hate crime statistics.
“Greatly strengthens reporting of hate crimes,” Beyer said. “Rather than punishing police for not collecting hate crime data, [the bill] gives them funding for doing it.”
Beyer said he supports the widespread use of body cameras, pushing to fund a pilot program in Alexandria and helping to ensure that U.S. Park Police are outfitted with body cameras after the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar. The congressman has been outspoken about seeking justice for Ghaisar’s family.
Beyer said he also believes in increased pay for police. Nationwide, police salaries have been increasing over the last few years. In Virginia, the mean income for police and sheriff’s patrol officers in 2020 was $60,190, though that doesn’t account for overtime.
“It’s about investing in the police to make them stronger and more effective, and part of that is increasing their incomes,” Beyer said. “There is strong research about the amount of education a police officer has and the likelihood of them being involved in police misconduct. What’s going to draw them? Better incomes.”
Beyer noted that members of the Capitol Police with whom he speaks regularly say they’re facing the same morale crisis that police departments are seeing nationwide, following outrage over a series of high-profile police shootings and violence. Last year, for instance, the Arlington County Police Department was called into D.C. to clear out protestors from Lafayette Square before they were recalled by county leadership.
“They’re really good people who are struggling right now,” Beyer said of the police force in general. “I read about the departures from police departments all over the country. That’s not sustainable. We have to make sure our police feel respected, and that includes independent citizen review. I was thrilled with Fairfax and now Alexandria set up independent citizen review. As we’ve seen too many times, it’s really hard to ask your peers to pass judgement on what you just did.”
The County Board voted last week to establish a new Community Oversight Board and Independent Policing Auditor, with subpoena powers, to investigate community complaints about police officers. The vote was criticized by the local NAACP for not going far enough in ensuring accountability.
Now the county will advertise a draft ordinance that, if approved in the summer, would outline the roles and responsibilities of this review board. Board member Takis Karantonis dissented.
“As we discuss and debate this ordinance over the next two months, we must both recognize that our community has an interest in additional accountability and transparency related to law enforcement and respect the diligent efforts of our public safety personnel,” said Matt de Ferranti, Chair of the Arlington County Board, in a statement.
What the civilian review board would look like was discussed by the Police Practices Work Group over the last year, which in February presented myriad ways to reform the police department. Some of the powers it suggested the board should have are included in the ordinance.
As written, Arlington’s civilian review board would be able to receive complaints about police conduct, review the police chief’s disciplinary decisions, as well as review finished police investigations, data, policies and the ACPD budget. It would also be able to recommend policy changes and conduct hearings and community outreach.
But it would not have the ability to independently and concurrently investigate officers, which the PPG recommends but County Manager Mark Schwartz does not.
Karantonis said last night the proposed ordinance is deficient in many ways, particularly because the authority to independently investigate a police officer is not baked in. He supported deferring the motion.
“Not a single person who testified for the advertisement of the ordinance as submitted,” he said. “In my inbox, I don’t see a single email in support.”
Fifteen PPG participants, community members and advocates told the County Board to defer action so the ordinance could be rewritten to allow for independent investigations.
“The Black and brown community is telling you that we need a civilian review board with teeth,” said community member Wilma Jones.
Minneapolis’s weak review board allowed Derek Chauvin to remain an officer despite multiple complaints of misconduct before he killed George Floyd, said Michelle Woolley, of Arlington for Justice. Meanwhile, the review board in St Louis, unable to investigate police shootings concurrently with police, had to wait more than five years to evaluate 21 shootings.
Public defender Brad Haywood said in a letter to the county that review-only models found in Virginia Beach and Fairfax are seen as “rubber stamps for police internal affairs.”
“The review bodies rarely recommend corrective action, and so far as I know they have never brought about proactive measures to address broader institutional problems, such as racial disparities in traffic enforcement or over-policing of misdemeanor conduct,” he said.
After the meeting, Julius D. Spain, Jr., the president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, told ARLnow the board needs to revise the ordinance’s “admitted defects.”
“This current version of the CRB is not equitable and will not hold up in the long term to engender trust by our community in the public safety system,” he said. “The voices of communities of color need to be centered in this conversation.”
The public can provide direct feedback throughout June and at the July meeting. After the Board votes in July, assuming the ordinance is approved and not deferred, members of the review board would be appointed in the fall.
In a report, the county articulated many reasons not to include investigative powers.
Arlington’s top prosecutor is partnering with a national criminal justice organization to reduce racial disparities in prosecution.
Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner are the first two prosecutors to participate in a new partnership program from the Vera Institute for Justice, an organization working to reform the justice system, per its website.
“The Vera Institute for Justice has done an incredible amount of work on public safety, incarceration rates, and also whether incarceration is an effective tool for public safety,” Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow. “They were an organization that I was always hopeful to work with.”
As part of the new partnership, Dehghani-Tafti and Gardner will be working to reduce race-based differentials in prosecution rates by 20% in their jurisdictions. The work is part of Vera’s Motion for Justice initiative, in which prosecutors are given support and opportunities to bridge the gap between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, according to a press release.
We’re proud to announce our partnerships with the offices of @parisa4justice and @StLouisCityCA. Together, we will work to reduce racial disparities in their criminal legal systems by at least 20% as part of our Motion for Justice initiative. Read more: https://t.co/UQwUDXrCut pic.twitter.com/I8kKaXwsjv
— Vera Institute of Justice (@verainstitute) April 6, 2021
Dehghani-Tafti and Gardner’s offices will receive policy recommendations and staff training, as well as resources to analyze data on the ways marginalized people are disproportionately impacted by prosecution practices, the release said.
This partnership, which will last 18 months, singles out Arlington as a leader in this work, Dehghani-Tafti said. The Arlington and St. Louis prosecutors’ offices are the first of up to 10 prosecutors’ offices in jurisdictions across the country that Vera plans to invite on as partners. (Dehghani-Tafti’s office also prosecutes cases for the City of Falls Church.)
“This is the conversation that I started when I started running,” she said. “We need to look at the results of our system and figure out how and why we’re there.”
This partnership is one way Dehghani-Tafti said she is keeping her promise to use data and evidence to drive lasting criminal justice reform.
“We’re going to need some help with our data, making our case management system be able to analyze data and run reports that are actually meaningful,” the prosecutor said.
The system Dehghani-Tafti said she inherited was designed to store information, not answer larger questions such as who is disproportionately represented in certain case outcomes.
“You can go case by case but you’re still operating in a system that we know cements racial and economic divides, continues cycles of traumas, affects families and communities and treats people who are incarcerated and their families — who haven’t done anything wrong — as expendable,” she said.
Here in Northern Virginia, Vera will also provide financial assistance to the Courthouse-based nonprofit Offender Aid and Restoration.
“OAR is an ideal partner for this,” Dehghani-Tafti said. “They’ve been looking at policies and practices, such as community service, through an anti-racism lens: Your economic means, your race, your zip code, your ability to speak English — that all can make it harder or easier to do community service.”
Dehghani-Tafti said she plans to get started with the Vera partnership “forthwith,” as soon as she can schedule 10 training sessions.
Leading up to the formation of the Police Practices Work Group, locals were protesting police violence against unarmed civilians and the county had received a number of complaints about police conduct, as well as calls for police reform.
On Monday, 15 Arlington County residents presented the highlights of their report — which included more than 100 recommendations — to County Manager Mark Schwartz. They suggested a model for a civilian review board, changes to how police enforce traffic violations and provide mental health services, and lastly, alternatives to the police for resolving disputes.
“It’s an excellent piece of work,” Schwartz said.
All the recommendations can be found in the final report.
Assuming the county establishes a police review board, members said it should be one made of civilians with an independent auditor presiding. The review board would have up to 15 Arlington County residents and would be closed to current and former ACPD officials. The board would have the authority to conduct independent investigations and compel the release of information.
These authorities would not be used lightly, said Rodney Turner, a committee member.
“We will try to do things without getting a subpoena first and we will look to ACPD reports to see if any investigation by the oversight body is necessary,” he said.
Another group looked for ways to improve road safety without hurting underprivileged communities. It recommended, among other things, more automated traffic enforcement cameras and a sliding payment scale for fines.
But “technology is not the panacea,” member Kathleen McSweeney said. Privacy remains a concern and the county should be sensitive to camera placement so certain communities do not feel targeted, she said.
Implementation of the sliding scale would likely require action by the state legislature, said Allison Carpenter, who chaired the traffic enforcement group.
Additionally, the county should delegate the response to most mental health crises to clinicians and volunteers, said Naomi Verdugo, the chair of the mental health subcommittee. Police would only respond as a last resort or if the risk of violence is high.
Verdugo also said the county’s Crisis Intervention Center should be staffed with more clinicians and advertised as a place where police, emergency services and family members can drop off people experiencing crises. The report recommends upping non-police security staffing at the center.
Finally, a group focused on ways to change Arlington’s “culture of calling 9-1-1,” and finding other ways of resolving disputes between neighbors.
Devanshi Patel, who chaired the alternative dispute resolution subcommittee, noted that many 9-1-1 calls are related to “suspicious activity,” which can take many forms. She recommended a private-public campaign focused on the importance of properly using 9-1-1 and choosing another hotline or resource in other circumstances.
Patel said the legal system needs to be reformed “from entry to exit,” especially to divert people from being detained unnecessarily.
“The focus should be placed on opportunities for ways to avoid criminal records because of collateral consequences not only to the person but also the community,” she said.
In the next few weeks, the county will receive an independent study from law enforcement expert Marcia Thompson, who examined ACPD policies and data on the use of force, training and supervision, body-worn cameras, recruitment and retention and internal affairs.
Image via Arlington County
Arlington Streetcar Anniversary — Today is the sixth anniversary of the cancellation of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar project. [ARLnow]
APS Still Planning for In-Person School — “Some have asked why we are proceeding at this time given the latest health metrics. It is important that we gather the information schools need to plan now, so that they have the time to prepare for possible transitions in January. Delaying the process would mean that we would not be ready to open our schools for more students, should we determine it is safe enough to do so.” [Arlington Public Schools]
More Taco Rocks on the Way — “Chef Mike Cordero and his sons, Nick and Anthony, are bringing a second Taco Rock location to Northern Virginia with plans to expand the brand to a chain of up to a dozen restaurants. Cordero and his restaurant group, Macnac Group, will deliver a 2,500-square-foot fast-casual taqueria and tequila bar at 6548 Little River Turnpike in the Pinecrest Plaza shopping center that will replicate the Rosslyn store that opened its doors in October 2019.” [Washington Business Journal]
Fireworks Banned on Public Property — “The use of personal fireworks is now officially verboten on publicly owned property in Arlington. The policy change was tucked away in a broader County Board action Nov. 14 that updates for the first time in three years the Arlington County Fire Prevention Code.” [InsideNova]
County to Implement Restorative Justice — “The Arlington County Board today accepted the Restorative Arlington Strategic Plan, which provides a framework for the County to adopt restorative justice practices in our public schools, legal system, and community settings. Arlington expects to receive a $75,000 grant award from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to help implement the plan.” [Arlington County]
Back to Normal at DCA May Take Years — “Officials at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority believe it will take years for air traffic to return to pre-pandemic levels — at least until 2024, according to its proposed 2021 budget. MWAA said it expects airlines at its two airports, Reagan National and Dulles International, will finish the year with about 7.4 million passengers put on planes, a significant drop from the 24.3 million in 2019.” [Washington Business Journal]
Nearby: New &Pizza in Seven Corners — “Looks like 7 Corners area of Falls Church is getting an @andpizza — a fun, new addition to the neighborhood.” [@jstrelitz/Twitter]