Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Arlington for Justice Urges Arlington County Board to Reform Policing

Reduce police budget, invest in community, end over-policing and racial profiling.

Dear Arlington County Board:

On behalf of Arlington for Justice, we are writing to share our concerns about the role of the Arlington County Police Department, especially its recent actions on June 1, 2020 to remove nonviolent protesters who were lawfully protesting in DC, and our recommendations for reform.

As Arlingtonians, we have protested, marched and held vigils to raise our concerns over the recent police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the hundreds of police killings all over the country for decades. We condemn these police murders and acts of violence.

It is with this backdrop that we were especially distressed to learn of Arlington County Police Department’s involvement in removing people from Lafayette Park in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020 as reported in The Washington Post and other news outlets. These individuals were exercising their First Amendment rights and lawfully protesting against police brutality. We were surprised to learn that Arlington’s police officers were part of an effort to squash the constitutional rights and limit the voices of dissent against the federal government.

We are outraged by our police department’s action. It raises serious questions about the use of mutual aid agreements, and more fundamentally, about the role of law enforcement in our community and how resources are allocated to meet the most basic needs of residents in our community.

We urge you to adopt these recommendations:

(1) Leadership: We understand that Arlington Police Chief Farr will be retiring from his position at the end of 2020. This provides an opportunity to reconsider the police chief’s role. We urge you to:

● Conduct a nationwide search with an emphasis on finding a police chief who is committed to justice system transformation, eliminating bias, and implementing new methods of policing.

(2) Revamped Role: We expect that you will engage the community and its stakeholders in deciding the future role of our police force to ensure that it is attuned to community needs. Towards that end, we urge you to:

● Eliminate the School Resource Officers Unit in the Arlington County Police Department.

● Reduce over-reliance on policing by establishing alternatives to calling the police and educational efforts and alternative approaches to responding to mental health crises.

● End policing of minor offenses that do not threaten public safety, such as fare evasion, possession of marijuana, and driving with a suspended driver’s licence.

● Repeal the ordinance that criminalizes failing to identify oneself to a law enforcement office (Arlington Code 17-13(c).

● Establish enforceable protections against racial profiling to prevent police from intervening in community members’ lives and reduce over-policing in Arlington communities.

● End Arlington law enforcement’s participation in the federal 1033 Program that provides military weaponry to local law enforcement.

● End mutual aid agreements with federal agencies such as the Park Police, the National Guard and ICE.

(3) Invest in community over law enforcement by reallocating resources

As the police budget has increased by 35% in the last decade, we recommend that you:

● Reallocate funding from eliminating the School Resources Officers Unit to fund more school social workers and school psychologists.

● Reallocate at least 10% of Arlington County’s Police Department’s $74 million per year budget.

● Freeze increases for Arlington County Police Department for the next five years.

● Reallocate the resources from these budget revisions through a participatory budget process that would allow Arlington’s residents, especially communities most impacted by the criminal justice system, to democratically decide how to allocate funds towards services and programs, such as:

○ Alternatives to calling the police

○ Pre-arrest diversion programs

○ Health care services

○ Substance abuse and drug and alcohol addiction treatment

○ Mental health care services

(4) Oversight: To expand oversight of our police force, we ask that you:

● Create a Community Review Oversight Board with subpoena power and a Community Complaints Office.

● Remove barriers to reporting police misconduct.

● For all stops by a police officer, require officers to give community members their name, badge number, reason for the stop and a card with instructions for filing a complaint to the Community Review Oversight Board.

(5) Policy and Practice Reforms: To expand best practices and reduce disparities, we urge you to:

Conduct a comprehensive review of Arlington County Police Department’s “use of force” policy and update it by September, 2020 to ensure that it aligns with best practices, including banning knee holds (See Campaign Zero model use of force policy).

● Ensure that dash cameras are installed and properly functioning in all police vehicles, and that police vehicles are not utilized when the camera is not properly functioning.

● Immediately require Arlington County Police Officers to wear body cameras and establish effective policies governing their use (See ACLU Model Policy) as well as penalties for individual officers who turn off their camera.

● Consider & undertake additional practice and policy reforms such as in the extensive recommendations in this report from national civil rights leaders: https://civilrights.org/wp-content/uploads/Policing_Full_Report.pdf

(6) Recruitment and Staffing: To increase the number of police officers who reflect the neighborhoods they serve in our community, we recommend that you:

● Develop and publicly report a plan by 2021 with strategies such as providing housing assistance.

● Expand successful community policing strategies in the Green Valley community throughout Arlington.

(7) Accountability: To ensure more accountability in our police force, we urge you to:

● Make officers' disciplinary history publicly accessible.

● Hold police officers who kill or seriously injure community members financially accountable.

● Update the community feedback survey to allow input on residents’ experiences and perceptions of our police department. This input should be used to inform the department's policies, practices, evaluations, and pay incentives.

(8) Transparency: To increase transparency, we ask that you:

● Increase data collection and public reporting to include the race and ethnicity of everyone involved in any interactions with Arlington County Police Department officers.

(9) Justice Transformation Commission: To ensure that these recommendations are fully implemented and Arlington residents are

involved in our justice system transformation, we urge that you:

● Immediately establish a Justice Transformation Commission with Arlington County public officials and community members together appointed to serve for the next six months to manage the implementation of these recommendations. The commission would:

○ Meet every two weeks at locations accessible to the public

○ Include time for public testimony

○ Host public hearings so that you can hear from Arlington residents on how to effectively implement these recommendations

○ Write & release a report with recommendations on the timing of implementation of these recommendations

Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to seeing your response to our recommendations and to working with you on these critical issues.

Arlington for Justice Steering Committee Members

Whytni Kernodle, Yolande Kwinana, Anika Kwinana Atima Omara,

Kim Phillip, Gabriela Uro, Liz Ryan, Rachel Collins,

Brad Haywood, Michelle Woolley

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