Alexandria, VA

Alexandria Police Chief Michael L. Brown has been heavily criticized over the public firing of an APD officer for unjustified use of force, resulting in a low approval rating in a recently released internal survey of officers obtained by ALXnow.

The survey, conducted by the Alexandria chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, was completed by 60 officers throughout the department — among a police force of 320 sworn officers and 138 civilian employees.

Sixty percent of survey respondents said they did not agree with the firing of officer Jonathan Griffin, an eight-year APD veteran who was working in the Community Oriented Policing Unit and whose case has been referred to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.

“In January, an APD officer used force on a person in custody that caused a broken leg and cuts to the face,” an SSPBA member told ALXnow on the condition of anonymity. “The department reviewed the case and last month Chief Brown fired the employee. He also told (Commonwealth’s Attorney) Bryan Porter, who has charged the officer with assault and battery. This, of course, is a big deal because this stuff doesn’t just happen everyday.”

The survey revealed low morale and distrust of leadership are top issues for at least a portion of the department. Brown would not comment on the survey, and neither did Inspector Diana Barrett, president of the SSPBA. The organization has chapters representing 58,000 officers in 11 states.

“The Southern States Police Benevolent Association (SSPBA) Alexandria Chapter surveyed its members after all this stuff because they felt that the Chief was wrong to have fired the officer,” the anonymous source said. “They think the officer was fired and arrested for political reasons, not because the force was not justified. Basically, it’s all blowback from the tragedy around George Floyd’s death. You can review the results yourself and you’ll see officers do not trust the Chief anymore.”

Brown, who stepped down as chief of the California Highway Patrol in 2008, was hired as the Alexandria police chief in January 2017. His department came under scrutiny after a third of patrol officers were sent home to telework during the worst days of the pandemic, followed by national unrest over policing in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police. Protests erupted throughout the city — Brown would later join participants at a vigil in front of police headquarters and wrote a letter to the community stating that things do, in fact, need to change.

Last month, the City Council unanimously directed the city manager to develop a community police review board, a process that Brown said has a negative connotation for his department. Consequently, community advocates said that the creation of the review board is too insular and that the city’s minority populations are not being consulted.

More than half (64%) of the respondents to the police association survey were detectives and officers; 33% were sergeants and commanders, and two respondents (3%) were civilians.

The survey found:

  • 60% of officers do not believe they would receive a fair administrative process if they violated policy
  • 78% of officers do not believe Chief Brown will honestly review their actions during an arrest
  • 60% of officers have reduced their normal policing activities (traffic stops, arrests, community policing) due to the recent termination of an officer
  • 70% of officers have considered a career change amidst against law enforcement scrutiny
  • 67% of officers would advise against a career in law enforcement if asked by a friend or relative
  • 73% of officers said recent actions by City Council, the city manager and mayor have cause reduction in policing activities
  • 65% of officers do not trust APD leadership in leading the department to future success
  • 70% of officers do not believe APD uses honesty and integrity in personnel matters

The survey also found that the largest issues affecting the department are:

  1. Chief of Police honesty/integrity issues — 29%
  2. Morale — 22%
  3. Compensation — 16%
  4. Poor Leadership — 9%
  5. Fear of retaliation — 7%
  6. Fear of being accused of illegal activity — 5%

Staff photo by James Cullum

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