Adding police presence to high-crime areas, putting more cops in communities and strategically placing mobile camera units are just a few of the initial strategies that the Alexandria Police Department is employing to confront a crime surge.
APD Assistant Chief Easton McDonald briefed City Council on the uptick on Tuesday night, and also said that there is an increase in juvenile crime and crimes being committed by young people.
“There is an uptick with juveniles,” McDonald told Council. “From April 1 to April 23, there have been approximately 27 encounters with juveniles that have either been charged with illegal weapons possession, drugs with the intent to sell, grand larceny of a vehicle where we had four juveniles that (allegedly) stole a vehicle, fled from the vehicle, and there was a weapon inside the vehicle.”
APD reported 11 shooting incidents this month, including three incidents on Monday, April 17. On that day, a clerk at a 7-Eleven was shot in a robbery in the early morning, followed by a shooting in the 1200 block of Madison Street near the Braddock Road Metro station, and then a shooting near a bus stop at the Bradlee Shopping Center. Three males, ages 17, 18, and 19, were arrested in connection to the Old Town incident and an 18-year-old male suspended from Alexandria City High School was arrested for the shooting at Bradlee, McDonald told Council.
McDonald said APD is forming a new community safety stakeholder group made up of local residents and officials to develop solutions, including outreach regarding available youth programs. The stakeholder group is yet to be named and will meet next month at APD headquarters, McDonald said.
“A weapon should not be in the hands of a teenager,” he said. “They should not be held in bookbags, so the stakeholder group is to get back into the communities to let these individuals know that this is not going to be tolerated. This is not something that can continue, and the (city’s) federal partners are going to deal with those individuals who are felons with guns. And we are arresting felons with guns.”
APD is increasing its presence in high-crime areas, such as the West End and Braddock areas, and plans on returning officers to specific beats, McDonald said. The department will also participate in numerous community cookouts and weekly walks through neighborhoods experiencing crime.
“We plan on working with the community to stop this,” McDonald said. “The goal is to reduce this gun violence.”
Mayor Justin Wilson said that APD can be more aggressive around serving warrants.
“We can be more aggressive around warrant service and things like that, where we’re getting out there and going to find people who we know are in the community that we’re looking for and devoting resources to try and to address some of those things,” he said. “If we can get people off the streets that shouldn’t be on the streets who are at risk of committing crimes, I think that’s always going to be a positive.”
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said that a recent shooting outside a bus stop in the Bradlee Shopping Center brought back bad memories of last year’s murder of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in that same shopping center. Jackson said she’s concerned that Alexandria City High School kids will be congregating at the shopping center in greater numbers in the next couple of weeks as they take their Standards Of Learning (SOL) tests.
“The uptick in crime is a major thing,” Jackson said. “We’re coming up on SOL (Standards Of Learning tests) season. SOL means, if the community is not aware, some kids are in school for a couple hours during the day and then they’re in their classrooms and watching movies and studying for other SOL tests. But most of them will be released and they will not get on yellow buses to go home from the schools. They will get on DASH buses that are free fare. What is the plan for Bradlee, because that is happening in the next two weeks?”
McDonald tried to put the three shooting incidents on April 17 into context by saying that APD responds to 400-to-600 calls for service daily.
“The children have an absolute right to walk into those stores and be in those particular areas,” McDonald said. “We are there. Our presence does prevent crime. There’s always going to be a case where that doesn’t work, but we will be there as fast as we can to mitigate what happens.”
A number of shooting incidents occur in the 1200 block of Madison Street in the Braddock neighborhood, in a property managed by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority. On April 21, there was another shooting on that same block, prompting Wilson to announce the addition of cameras and police foot patrols to the area.
As previously reported, an ARHA resident told ALXnow that he fears for his son’s life.
“I been here three years next month, and counting today I’ve heard at least 160 gunshots,” the man said. “It’s a lot, man. Right outside my back door. I have a four year old son and I had to train him to run upstairs and duck. I’m glad he’s in school right now. I feel like we’re sitting ducks. Something’s got to be done. I’m trying to get out of here. Nobody should have to live like this.”
Kevin Harris is an ARHA board member, and said he’s happy about the plan by APD.
“I’m happy about the measures the city is taking to mitigate violence and crime throughout the city,” Harris said. “Also, I’m pleased with the measures that the residents of the ARHA in partnership with the organization as a whole have been taking for years to keep our kids and families safe. It’s a grave miscalculation and misunderstanding to think that the families of ARHA’s communities are unconcerned or participants in these acts of violence in their communities. These families are just as concerned as their neighbors.”
After a crime wave in 2020, that fall ARHA’s safety committee made the following recommendations to the police department to reduce crime incidents. Many of the recommendations are in line with APDs current strategy to reduce crime.
- Increase police presence in high crime areas by stationing officers in cars in areas that are known for a high volume of loitering to deter criminal activity (specifically for its Samuel Madden, Cameron Valley, and Andrew Adkins properties)
- Increase presence by random community walks multiple times per week (specifically Samuel Madden, Cameron Valley, and Andrew Adkins)
- Increase positive community engagement such as events for the youth, neighborhood educational workshops (knowing your rights, tips on police engagement, how broken laws affect the community), etc. to build a positive rapport with the community
- Improve community relations by door knocking and having informal “meet and greets” with people in the community
- Meet with the Safety Committee and provide training and insight on how to report a crime (develop a special way for safety committee members to contact law enforcement)
- Create a standing monthly meeting between the Chief of Police and the Chairman of the Safety Committee and/or the leaders of the Safety Committee
- Create a police liaison who will act as a bridge between the Safety Committee and APD
- Enforce disturbing of the peace after certain hours to limit the late-night partying and drinking that could lead to violence and crime
- Provide diversity training for officers with the intent and purpose for them to learn how to police different demographics
- Reevaluate tactics for obtaining crime tips (never approach people at home, meet privately away from the community, and create and/or educate people on a discreet way for people to report crimes)
- Be more responsive to calls directly from ARHA communities
- Create a means to hold Resident Police Officers accountable for properly policing their assigned communities
- Create a Citizen’s Police Review Board with representation from various communities throughout the City of Alexandria with at least one representative from the Safety Committee appointed on the board. Sincerely, Loren Depina, Chairperson of the ARHA Resident Association Safety Committee
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