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City Manager: Police Officers Teleworked in Case of ‘Much Worse’ COVID-19 Situation

(Updated on May 15 at 10:45 a.m.) — Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks and Police Chief Michael Brown have declined to comment on this developing story, according to city spokesman Craig Fifer.

City Manager Mark Jinks on Tuesday said that Alexandria Police ended their “significant” monthlong teleworking initiative and that police were isolated and made available to respond to a “much worse situation” should the peak of cases not flatten.

“That telework was for the month of April. That is not happening,” Jinks told City Council in a virtual meeting. “The chief (of police) made a decision in regards to that with calls for service down 42%, and desire to keep as many people isolated and available for what could have been a much worse situation, if the peak hadn’t flattened out as far as new cases and exposure.”

Jinks continued, “And so there was significant telework. Some of that, officers were assigned things to do. Particularly, we also moved to more electronic calling in for non-urgent cases, and then somebody could be teleworking and call that person back and take the information down. And so some of that was done, but with things ramping back up, we made the decision to basically reverse that telework and get back to higher levels of staffing.”

Between April 6 and May 2, the Alexandria Police Department reduced its enlarged patrol presence (with added school resource officers, K-9 officers, traffic safety section officers and community relations officers) and on any given day had one-third of assigned patrol officers off the street and teleworking at home. The city, which says APD maintained minimum staffing levels, ended the teleworking practice after four weeks, and said it was an “innovative” solution to “help protect employees and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The change drew some public criticism, particularly from a local activist Facebook page Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria! End Seminary Rd Diet & Other Bad Ideas.

“We love our patrol officers who do so much for our city,” local activist Bill Rossello wrote. “Why Chief Brown would keep 1/3 of the City’s finest off the streets when the community was most anxious is beyond me. And the city manager reportedly approved this ‘innovation.'”

City Councilman John Taylor Chapman asked Jinks for an update on police teleworking.

“I guess there were some individuals in APD that were teleworking, particularly on patrol,” Chapman said. “I saw a story and we got an email from some other folks in another department about that, so I wanted to kind of get an update on where that stood that was still happening.”

Mayor Justin Wilson did not address the issue in the meeting but previously told ALXnow that he wants all officers assigned to patrol the streets to do so.

City Councilwoman Amy Jackson asked about compensation and whether the officers teleworking received their full salaries, which they did.

“So, were those officers paid the same amount to telework, because everybody else — Sheriff’s Department, courthouse — everyone was still going in on a skeleton crew, which, of course, I understand that we don’t have the reserves in APD than if they get sick on the front lines we were going to run out, of course, of officers to be out and about?” Jackson said. “However, because they were doing a different type of work at home and I understand the struggles with being at home and having a family and not being on a schedule that is normal for the household, how are we going about then looking at the pay?”

Jinks said that first responders working in the field receive an additional $4 an hour.

“The folks who are teleworking are getting their regular pay. People who are required by the city to come to a worksite, whether it’s on patrol, whether it’s working in the detention center, in a fire station or DCHS. At this point we created an emergency response premium pay,” Jinks said. “Since the beginning of April, they’ve been paid an additional $4 an hour, so they’re being paid more to work in this environment, and people who are teleworking are getting their normal pay.”

Additionally, a portion of the city’s 911 operators are now receiving emergency calls at home. Alexandria is the first city in the country to do so, and the city considers police teleworking to be an “innovative approach.”

City spokesman Craig Fifer says that the department’s minimum staffing requirements were maintained and that there was no disruption to services provided to residents. He said that the city’s position regarding police teleworking was not accurately covered by ALXnow, and that there there was no crime increase.

Fifer also said that a crime spree that occurred in April allegedly by one individual who broke into four gas stations and stole more than $45,000 worth of merchandise, can not be attributed to a reduction in police presence, and that officers working in remote locations at home were not impacted in their ability to respond to service calls. Fifer additionally said that former Deputy Chief Blaine Corle may not have been aware of an International Association of Chiefs of Police staffing study that was published in 2016 and recommended “bolstering the Telephone Reporting Unit” when he spoke to ALXnow.

“I’m not sure how living in Woodbridge or Maryland affects someone’s ability to answer the phone,” Fifer told ALXnow in an email. “As I pointed out to you, bolstering the Telephone Reporting Unit was a major recommendation of the IACP staffing study. Perhaps Chief Corle wasn’t familiar with it, since he retired two years before it was published.”

Corle disagreed with the city’s assessment.

“That’s vintage city government thinking, that it’s your fault for raising the concern. That’s a subjective opinion of working there for more than 30 years,” Corle told ALXnow. “What I’m talking about is someone sitting anywhere other than in their patrol car or on an assigned beat to respond to emergencies. One of the criteria for evaluating departments every year is their average response time to both emergency and non-emergency calls for service. Once you reduce the number of officers available to respond to someone’s home or business, it stands to reason you will have a negative impact on both response times and the public perception of police availability.”

As previously reported, last month also saw a huge jump of more than 700 positive COVID-19 cases in Alexandria. On April 14, the department reported to ALXnow that since March 30 there had been a 42% reduction in service calls and a 91% decrease in traffic stops since the Governor announced his stay at home order. Police also temporarily suspended most traffic enforcement (except egregious driving violations endangering public safety).

ALXnow has asked for comments on police teleworking from Police Chief Mike Brown and the city manager on why teleworking was halted and whether Council will receive a report on the matter.

Here are the answers to ALXnow’s recent questions from Fifer:

ALXnow: How many Alexandria Police officers are currently teleworking?

Fifer: The only patrol officers currently teleworking are those who can do so while on restricted duty (injury, etc.) or due to COVID-19-related limitations (quarantine is required due to potential exposure; children’s school is closed and no other childcare is available; etc.).

ALXnow: How many Alexandria Police officers took vacation for the period of April 6-May 2?

Fifer: I checked with both the Police Department and the Finance Department (which administers payroll), and it would take several hours to provide the vacation information you’ve requested. Unfortunately, this is not reasonable for us to do.

ALXnow: Now that teleworking has been (eliminated/reduced), what percentage of the expanded patrol pool is currently on the street?

Fifer: On April 30, Chief Brown and Chief Hayes determined that, effective May 2, it was appropriate for officers who had been temporarily assigned to the larger patrol pool to instead work from the Police Department Headquarters or be assigned to specific field duties such as supporting food distribution sites.

ALXnow: Can Chief Brown please provide an explanation as to why the teleworking practice was a success?

Fifer: I’ve checked with the City Manager and Police Chief, and they have each declined to provide further comments beyond the extensive information the City has already provided ALXnow (much of which has not been incorporated in your stories).

The following questions remain unanswered:

  • Is the chief of police going to provide the city manager as well as the city council with an update on the teleworking practice? If so, how? In a staff report, or in person at a virtual council meeting?
  • As far as why the practice was reversed, who ultimately made that decision? Was it the chief? Can he provide a quote as to why the practice was halted?
  • Can the city manager provide a quote as to why the practice was halted? Was it halted with his knowledge/approval, or was this solely a decision of the chief of police?

File photo

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