Report: Alexandria Police Department has morale issues

The Alexandria Police Department is beset by morale issues, according to a report obtained by ALXnow.

In the 2021 APD Organizational Assessment — an annual anonymous survey conducted by the department — 173 department staffers (out of 421 total staff) self-reported their wellbeing as employees.

“The department is in a rapid decline,” wrote an APD employee. “Many are leaving for higher paying careers. Once proud employees are being beaten down emotionally by the constant lack of support.”

“We are ‘thanked’ for what we do but lack the necessary resources to do the job. New employees cannot be hired and trained to replace the ones who are leaving,” the employee continued. “Understaffing all across the board is a huge issue. City Council had their foot on the throat of the department slowly, taking the life out of the once proud organization.”

The City report was compiled last year, and has comments redacted by the City Attorney to eliminate any identifying information. Its release follows the announcement by Police Chief Don Hayes that, due to short-staffing, the department is reducing its services to the public.

“Our goals include ensuring a sustainable work/life balance for officers, while focusing our investigative response efforts on more serious criminal incidents and concerns across the community,” Hayes said in a video released on social media.

Police will no longer respond to calls for service that fall under another agency’s responsibility or respond to old crime scenes that show no danger to the public.

More from the APD survey:

  • 45% feel that their immediate coworkers are committed to APDs overall goals
  • 26% of respondents said that it would take a lot to get them to leave Alexandria
  • 27.1% feel that the department is committed to responding to the survey
  • 26.6% feel that their opinions seems to count at work
  • 24.3% believe that employees in Alexandria live by APD core values
  • 24% believe they will be recognized if they contribute to the department’s success
  • 22.5% believe that APD culture supports the health and wellbeing of employees
  • 18.9% know how they fit into the City of Alexandria’s future plans
  • 16% trust leaders and managers to lead the city to future success
  • 12% said that they are being paid fairly

There were some relatively positive statistics in the survey:

  • 76% of respondents find their jobs interesting and challenging
  • 75% of staff feel that their immediate managers care about them as people, and that they create a trusting environment
  • 73.5% responded that they feel accepted by their immediate coworkers
  • 72% feel that their immediate managers care about their development
  • 68.2% find their work engaging

Hayes, who was officially sworn into office in April, is taking one staff recommendation to heart. He plans on adding another assistant chief position, shifting the department closer to what it looked like before it was restructured under his predecessor, former Chief Michael Brown, who abruptly resigned last year.

The resignation elevated Hayes to the role of acting chief, and now with the “training wheels” off, he says he has a challenging task of managing a short-staffed department with employees who want more money than what’s been approved in the city manager’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

One respondent was against the Council’s 2021 approval of a Community Policing Review Board — a body designed to evaluate community concerns on policing in the city. The Board, which is made up of APD personnel and community stakeholders, started meeting earlier this year. As of last month, the city has not yet an independent auditor to investigate incidents and complaints against the police.

“Do not let City Council have the citizen review board for police,” wrote one officer. “This department is different then the current media likes to portray police and lumping this department in with the media hysteria will just hurt the department and make good officers unhappy and leave.”

More APD staff comments are below.

“This new buzz word of ‘equity’ has no place in reality. Justice is blind. this has caused officers to think twice about arresting someone, especially someone who may be a minority out of the risk that if they are required to used JUSTIFIED FORCE and a video gets on Youtube they will be hung out to dry.”

“You have changed the culture here, and you truly are a stand up guy. Thank you sir.”

“There is so much infighting that it does not allow improvement into the department.”

“Integrity. Show it.”

“Afraid any complaint or criticism could potentially ID me, and I do not want that hassle.”

“The Alexandria Police Department formulated a group of detectives and investigators to investigate the ongoing shooting offenses. This group has seized numerous (over twenty) firearms and a lot of arrests without the help of federal resources… This group worked tirelessly over the past several months to prevent crime in this city, risking their lives daily.”

“Anything that is typed in this box will not matter, it will simply be responded to by being spun into a verbose lie.”

“Being a civilian employee at APD is sometimes INCREDIBLY difficult and lonely. Although we understand and respect that sworn staff are the priority, some days cans just be really disheartening and the worst part is that most sorn staff don’t even take time to care about our experiences here. It’s as if we are just paint on the wall, we know that our work is helpful to the overall mission of the department and although we know we’re technically seen, we’re still more or less invisible unless someone takes time to actually SEE us. And our opinions and perspectives 100% do not matter and are rarely asked. However, of course many of us know and accept that that is just part of police culture but knowing that doesn’t make it easy some days. There is also no room for growth within the department for civilians. Sworn staff can climb the ranks, switch units, switch their schedules, move around constantly, explore, learn, grow, expand their skillset and keep from getting bored and we quite simply, can’t do any of that. Many of us are only able to have the same role for our entire time here with very little (if any) room for movement. Although I understand that due to the structure it wouldn’t be possible to create more civilian positions it WOULD be really amazing to have civilian department rotations, where we could see what it’s like working in other units in the department. For example: someone in records could spend a few hours a week working in property or someone in property could sign up to work with the PIOs for a few hours a week, etc. Similar to how the city has department rotations but solely within the department. Although it’s technically small, very few civilians have the opportunity to see/learn what it’s like to work in another unit here unlike sworn staff who are constantly switching their units or taking on new tasks. It would also be really empowering for civilian staff to maybe have a committee solely committed to checking in on us and making sure that our voices are not completely forgotten/drowned out. The committee could also provide peer support (JUST for civilians), check in on those who have been teleworking completely since March and overall just engage in work or projects to boost OUR morale, not sworn, just civilians; giving us a place and a space here that is just about us, allowing APD to become our home as well, not somewhere where we are just random guests that are more or less tolerated.”

“I implore you to consider establishing an additional Assistant Chief position. Please do not confuse this as an attempt to create a ew promotional opportunity, because it is not. We need more responsive guidance, direction, and oversight. All too often we are spinning our wheels, only to have our efforts and projects fall by the wayside. [Redacted] Thank you.”