Alexandria Police say they’re desperate for help from the City Council with compensation and hiring, and that out of every one new hire, three officers are leaving the department.
“That’s not sustainable,” said Lt. Marcus Downey, vice president of the International Union of Police Association’s (IUPA), Local 5. “In my 15 years with the department, I’ve never seen it this bad.”
On Tuesday, the Alexandria chapter of IUPA sent City Council a letter pleading for help with compensation and hiring. The letter strikes directly at the administration of former Police Chief Michael L. Brown, who abruptly stepped down in June to handle family matters in California.
“The taxpayers of Alexandria City deserve to know that after four years of mismanagement and ineptitude at the executive level of the police department, decades of false promises from Alexandria City Hall, the pressure of maintaining premium policing services through a global pandemic, and skyrocketing crime rates, both staffing and morale within the Police Department are plummeting,” the letter says.
The union says police can’t focus on solving open crimes and engaging with the community since having to “transfer officers from our Detective, Community Oriented Policing, and Motors Sections just so that we can properly address routine calls for service.”
The union continues, “Alongside our partners within the Alexandria Fire Department, the Police Department is experiencing an exodus of staff and an inability to add new officers at the same pace. And just like our fire department allies, it takes almost a full year to replace those who leave. Combine this with City Council’s defunding of the police department of almost $1,000,000, the elimination of half a dozen sworn positions, and the removal of several “over-hire” positions, the department struggles daily to meet the law enforcement demands of this densely populated suburb of Washington, D.C.”
The Alexandria Police and Fire Departments are among the lowest paid in the region, with full-time starting salaries at $49,294 for firefighters and $51,000 for police officers. Starting pay for police in neighboring Arlington is $56,000; in D.C. it’s $57,000; in Fairfax County it’s just over $60,000.
Mayor Justin Wilson says that compensation issues will have to be addressed in the upcoming budget, which, after approval, will go into effect in July 2022. Until then, he says, the city has resources to make sure that the police department is “appropriately” staffed throughout the year.
“(G)enerally we make compensation decisions in our annual budget process, as we cannot ask the taxpayers for more money in the middle of the year,” Wilson told ALXnow. “But to the extent we have emergent issues, we have flexibility to adjust as needed, as we have done, particularly in the past year given the hyper-competitive hiring market right now.”
In the meantime, Downey says it’s too early to tell how well acting Chief Don Hayes is performing, but that choosing Captain Dennis Andreas as the acting assistant chief was a wise decision.
As for raising taxes to increase compensation, the union says that the argument is a diversionary tactic. Additionally, even though the City passed a collective bargaining ordinance this year, the department is “at best” two years away from any contracts, the letter says.
“Local politicians use this tactic because they know taxpayers will feel hesitant,” the union wrote. “Yet somehow, $5,000,000 in brand new programs have been funded by the City just this calendar year without a tax increase.”
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