Arlington, VA

As the nation continues to face a reckoning about race and police shootings, Arlington’s new Police Practices Group is seeking feedback on how local law enforcement is performing.

The work group has rolled out a community feedback form that allows Arlington residents to weigh in on topics like use of force, police training, body cameras, mental health, traffic enforcement and a potential civilian review board.

“The PPG is seeking insights and comments from community members to inform the their work plan moving forward,” said a county spokeswoman.

The Police Practices Group is tackling four broad policy considerations:

  • Police civilian review board – what type and approach?
  • The role of the police department in providing mental health services;
  • The role for the police department in traffic enforcement; and
  • The opportunity for alternative dispute resolution, including restorative justice & mediation.

The group started meeting last month and is set to wrap up its work by Dec. 30. It will present its recommendations to County Manager Mark Schwartz, who in turn will make recommendations for potential changes to the County Board.

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Arlington County’s new police practices review board answered questions from the public about its goals and methods in a virtual meeting Monday.

The board, announced in July by County Manager Mark Schwartz, used the meeting to elaborate on how it would “ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community” through its review.

Its work comes in the wake of increased community complaints about ACPD, local activists’ recent demands for police reform and a national reckoning on policing after George Floyd’s killing by police.

Questions were directed at representatives of the review board’s two parts: an external assessment of ACPD by a hired firm, and a 16 person Police Practices Group (PPG) with four subcommittees.

Marcia Thompson, a civil rights attorney and vice president of law enforcement consulting at Hillard Heintze, is leading her firm’s ACPD assessment.

When asked how Hillard Heintze will conduct its review, Thompson said it will first comb through ACPD data to compile a quantitative report on policies and practices like use of force. The firm will then create a qualitative report based on a climate survey and interviews with police officers and community members who have relevant lived experience.

Thompson said the firm will compare its findings to what are considered best practices for community policing, a standard set by the U.S. Department of Justice and policing accreditation groups like CALEA.

She added that reviews like this are typically asked for by police departments dealing with a publicized incident or failure, but she does not think similar pressure compelled Arlington.

“This is a progressive move by a department to actually have someone coming in and look at their practices,” Thompson said. “They have no idea what our outcomes are going to be, so that’s a very bold step that they took to have someone come in to look at their work.”

The remainder of the community’s questions were about the PPG, whose members are largely Arlington-based. The group consists of four subcommittees, with each looking at an ACPD policy area.

“Our end goal is to be able to take the assessment work that [Thompson] and her team are doing and combine it with community engagement work that the PPG group is doing, to present a set of recommendations to the County Manager by the middle of December,” Julie Shedd, the associate dean at George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution and the PPG’s expert consultant, said.

Each subcommittee chair spoke in the meeting about what their intentions are and methods of analysis will be.

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(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) Arlington County is creating a new group of residents, officials and police officers to review law enforcement practices in Arlington.

The 15-member Police Practices Group will conduct a review to “ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community.”

The group, which will start meeting in August, will allow “all the people who are most concerned about [police practices in Arlington] to have an airing,” Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said Friday morning. It will also “provide an opportunity for people to get all the perspectives, including hearing directly from the police… and bringing in some outside parties who can take a look at what we do and discuss best practices.”

Schwartz noted that the county has received a number of complaints about police conduct, as well as calls for police reform from groups like the local chapter of the NAACP. Prior to Thursday night’s announcement of the group’s formation, activists were questioning whether the county was stalling in their response.

Among specific, actionable items for the group to discuss are the establishment of a police civilian review board, the role of the police department in traffic enforcement, and whether police officers should respond to certain calls for mental health services and civil disputes.

Schwartz said the review will not examine mutual aid agreements with other regional police departments, like the agreement that infamously led Arlington officers in riot gear to be deployed to the White House, as a regional review is already underway. Additionally, the group will not discuss the role of School Resource Officers — uniformed ACPD officers stationed in schools — as Arlington Public Schools is already reviewing that practice, according to Schwartz.

As for the nationwide calls to “defund the police,” Schwartz said budget decision are likely to follow recommendations group the group — for instance, are as many sworn officers needed if some duties, like response to mental health emergencies, are removed. There could also be discussions about raising officer pay to better help recruit qualified officers, he added.

The creation of the group comes after local and nationwide protests over the killing of unarmed civilians — particularly Black people — at the hands of law enforcement. It also comes as Police Chief M. Jay Farr prepares to retire by the end of the year.

More from a county press release:

Following recent events involving policing and racial justice across the United States, the County Board has asked the County Manager to lead a review of police policies and practices. This review will ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community.

The first step will be an external review and assessment of current policies and practices in six key areas:

  • Review of use of Force: De-escalation tactics; lethal and non-lethal force; and, foot and vehicle pursuits.
  • Training and Supervision: Police Academy training; and training for implicit bias and crisis intervention.
  • Cameras: Both body-worn and vehicle dash cameras; and policies regarding use of this equipment.
  • Recruitment and Retention: Screening for bias; psychological evaluation; mental health programs; process for officer evaluation; promotion and leadership development programs; and compensation, including pay and benefits.
  • Internal Affairs: Statistics; structures and procedures; effectiveness through an anonymous climate survey; grievance processes; and use of force investigations.
  • Data/Statistics: Reviewing data collected for arrests and stops over the past 3 years and ensuring its consistency.

This external assessment will begin on July 20, 2020 and be led by two parties with expertise in departmental assessments, police practices, policy review, criminal justice reform and conflict analysis: Marcia K. Thompson, Vice President at Hilliard Heintze, an attorney and law enforcement practitioner with more than 20 years working in the criminal justice field; and Dr. Julie Shedd, Associate Dean at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University Carter School (see biographies below).

The themes of this assessment will be shared with the 15-member Police Practices Group (PPG) early in the fall and will support the work of the group moving forward. The PPG will begin meeting in August and will also discuss the following four important policy areas:

  • Police civilian review board – what type and approach?
  • The role of the police department in providing mental health services;
  • The role for the police department in traffic enforcement; and
  • The opportunity for alternative dispute resolution, including restorative justice & mediation.

The PPG will use the themes identified during the assessment to inform discussion and work to offer options on the four policy areas and report to the County Manager by December 21, 2020. The PPG will hold public engagement sessions to gather community input on these issues. The results will be provided to the County Manager as he hires a new Police Chief after a national search. (Note: Chief Jay Farr will be retiring before the end of this year). The information will also form the basis of potential recommendations for improvements to the County Board.

County Board Chair Libby Garvey noted that “this group will start us on a journey to tackle the important issues we face as a community regarding public safety for all of our residents. We have a fine police department in Arlington, however, it can and should be better. Arlington Police welcome the review and look forward to being a part of this important effort. These times call for a new look at how our community addresses public safety and policing.”

“I want to thank each of those who have agreed to participate in this important work,” County Manager Mark Schwartz stated. “This group will hopefully strengthen the bonds of trust between officers and residents of the County and explore the difficult issues facing law enforcement today. Our Police Department has a longstanding history of working with the community to provide professional services and a mission to treat all individuals with respect but also recognizes the need for improvements. Arlington is not immune to the challenges seen elsewhere, and I know that we will be better for the work of this group.”

The PPG’s first meeting is scheduled for August 3, 2020.

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