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Alexandria Police Department to tackle crime increase with more cops on streets and tech improvements

(Updated at 11:45 a.m.) The Alexandria Police Department will be rolling out new technology and putting more officers on the streets to combat rising gun-related crimes.

Assistant Police Chief Easton McDonald presented this plan, unofficially named “Operation Cease Fire,” to the City Council on Tuesday.

After working from home and limiting their exposure to the public during the pandemic, APD says its officers will be going back out into communities now that the public health crisis in the rearview mirror and in response to rising crimes involving guns.

“Robberies are up 30%,” McDonald told Council. “Robberies are up because guns are used in those robberies. Today’s law enforcement and executives need precision policing tools to maximize efficiency and promote more positive community engagement.”

One hurdle for the department, however, is minimal staffing. There are more than 300 officers within APD and the department is currently short nine positions, with officers on medical leave and a number in the field training offices.

Police Chief Don Hayes says this situation will improve after the current class of 20 trainees finishes the police academy.

Another tactic for stepping up a police presence, without that staffing, could be the use of gun detection technology. “Operation Cease Fire” will use acoustic sensors to pinpoint the location of gunfire and differentiate between similar sounds, like a car backfiring. No timeline was presented for the program.

“This will tell law enforcement where the shots are coming from with an accuracy of approximately 25 meters,” McDonald said. “We can get a published time within 60 seconds, which means a confirmation on whether it was a gun, a car backfire or something else. This will strategically reduce gun violence in the City of Alexandria and prevent further loss of life.”

There were six homicides last year, up from two in 2021. Robberies rose 30% (108 incidents in 2022), larcenies increased 7% (2,593 incidents) and Auto thefts jumped 18% (315 incidents). Aggravated assaults are the only Part I crime statistic that fell, going down 29% (172 incidents).

Additionally, destruction of property/vandalism incidents climbed 13% in 2022, with 1,320 incidents reported. Drugs and narcotics offenses also climbed 53% (295 incidents), drunkenness increased 17% (344 incidents) and driving under the influence incidents rose 10% (344 incidents).

McDonald said that officers will be spending less time in their cruisers, which will allow them to talk to residents and business owners in communities.

“There are a lot of new officers that need to introduce themselves to the community and people,” he said. “What you’ll begin to see are officers that will… get out of the car, talk to people, meet people, go into the businesses, talk to the businesses, look at crime prevention issues, like the bushes are too tall.”

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