Newsletter

No arrests were made after a woman stole money from a business in the heart of Old Town on Friday, August 12.

The incident occurred at Dolce Gelati (107 N. Fairfax Street) at around 5:30 p.m. The business is located across the street from City Hall and just blocks from the waterfront.

Alexandria Police tweeted about a large police presence in the area to look for the suspect.

Via Google Maps

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The Alexandria Community Policing Review Board should be up and running by September — just in time to turn in a written report to City Council on its activities, according to Board members.

The seven-person Board was created by City Council last year to independently review allegations of police misconduct, and its effectiveness is based on Members receiving extensive training, as well as the hiring of an independent auditor/investigator to hire staff, conduct investigations and coordinate the Board’s administrative functions.

Board Member Rob Krupicka, a former City Councilman and Delegate, said that the training is taking longer than anticipated.

“There’s a lot of reasons why we’re not going to be able to fully function as a board yet, because of all the moving parts to get up and running,” Krupicka said at the most recent Board meeting at City Hall on July 6 (Wednesday). “I had a conversation and with the mayor and explained to him that the training requirements, due to a number of things, weren’t going to happen exactly on the six month timeline, but that we could get them done a few months after that. Essentially, we were compressing a year’s worth of training into six months and it was just too much to do that.”

Krupicka said that the Board will have also drafted its official bylaws by September.

The Board must do the following every six months:

  • At least eight hours of training, presented by the National Association for Criminal Oversight of Law Enforcement or a comparable professional organization
  • Training by the applicable city staff addressing legal and ethical obligations of members of a public board, and APD policies and training, including but not limited to defensive tactical training,
  • Crisis Intervention Training, and de-escalation training
  • Training on privacy rules and City policies and procedures involving liability and employee discipline
  • At least three ride-along sessions with APD patrol operations per calendar year

The Board interviewed one candidate for the auditor position on Wednesday night in a closed session.

Board Chair Todd Pilot said that the City is now looking at six auditor/investigator candidates.

“I also know that they’re (the City Manager’s office) still looking at other resumes,” Pilot said.

The City is using recruitment firm POLIHIRE to find auditor candidates. The job pays between $106,845 and $193,631.

The City and the auditor/investigator will also provide Board members with additional training on “mental health, trauma-informed policing, civil rights and constitutional law, race and systemic racism, community organizing and outreach, mediation, investigation, and policing practices, policies and administration,” according to the ordinance establishing the Board.

The date of next month’s meeting is not yet posted on the city’s website.

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Supreme Court (file photo)

The Alexandria City Council will vote on a resolution Tuesday night to protect access to abortions in the city.

The resolution, which was initially drafted by Councilman Kirk McPike, lays out several steps that the city will take.

“We call upon the General Assembly of Virginia and the United States Congress to take such actions as may be necessary to protect the right to abortion in Virginia,” the resolutions states. “We ask that the City Manager consider budgetary proposals for the FY 2024 budget to ensure accessibility of reproductive health services, safe abortion services, accessible maternal and child health services for low-income Alexandria residents.”

The resolution also calls on the City Attorney to join on-going or future lawsuits “to protect the availability of abortion services in Alexandria,” as well as land use protections for providers.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wadebanning abortion in 14 states and setting the stage for future legal challenges countrywide. Here in Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that he wants to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The Alexandria Democratic Committee praised the resolution.

“The Alexandria Democratic Committee stands in solidarity with City Council as they present their resolution in response to the overturn of Roe v. Wade,” ADC said on Facebook. “Our public support of bold statements like these is crucial.”

Many of Alexandria’s elected officials expressed shock and dismay at the ruling.

Del. Charniele Herring, the Democratic Caucus Chair, tweeted that she was horrified and that she would continue to fight to keep abortion legal in Virginia.

The full resolution is below the jump. Read More

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Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson took fire from one of her colleagues Tuesday night (June 14) against the appointment of former School Board Member Christopher Lewis to the Alexandria City Public Schools Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Committee.

Jackson said that Lewis already serves on the city’s Community Policing Review Board and recommended Mike Mackey, the director of the Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Service Unit.

Council ended up voting 6-1 (with Jackson in opposition) to appoint former Lewis as its representative on the 16-person SLEP Advisory Committee, which is tasked with reimagining the Alexandria Police Department’s relationship with the school system — including school resource officers at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools.

“I just don’t think that he is pro-police,” Jackson said of Lewis. “I don’t, and that’s fine. But when I’m looking for someone to put on this particular task force that helps see all the situations and all the perspectives of everyone in the city, finding someone that doesn’t have that outlook and is already close-minded to certain aspects of it, I would not want to see on this particular committee.”

Lewis, the CEO of Public Knowledge, was a School Board member from 2013 to 2019, and last month was named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s 500 most influential people. Lewis was in meetings today and could not comment on this story.

Councilman Canek Aguirre said Lewis has an unparalleled resume, and that Jackson’s comments were “egregious” and “insulting.”

“It’s rather egregious to say that he’s not pro-police,” Aguirre said. “I’d ask where in the past has he ever said that he’s not pro-police. He doesn’t say that. That’s very insulting.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that both Mackey and Lewis are great to work with.

“My hope is that they (SLEP) are a solutions-oriented group trying to bridge some difficult issues in the community, and coming up with thoughtful policy designs that ultimately can be accepted by both the City Council and the School Board, ” Wilson said. “I think Chris has a good background can help bridge that.”

City Council adopted a number of resolutions Tuesday night aimed at curbing violence within Alexandria City Public Schools, including Wilson’s and Council Member Alyia Gaskins’ memo on their Youth Safety and Resiliency plan.

Gaskins said that the community is still reeling from the death of Alexandria City High School Senior Luis Mejia Hernandez on May 24.

“We also know that many of our young people right now are dealing with the loss of a friend, a classmate,” Gaskins said. “We have parents who are grieving the loss of their son. And so this is really an opportunity for us to as we say in the memo listen, learn, and act.”

Of the 18 arrests of ACPS students between August and December 2021, a vast majority of students arrested are Black.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. resigned last week and did not attend the meeting. He is out of the office until June 21.

Per the approved plan, staff will return to Council with a proposed timeline to start engaging kids, parents and ACPS staff on youth trauma and mental health within the school system.

“I think we are dealing with an urgent crisis,” Gaskins continued. “We have a great community that rallies and steps up when there’s a challenge, and this is our opportunity to do that once again, and to really build new relationships with our young people to let them know they’re cared about, and to take some important steps that invests in their mental health and their overall resiliency.”

Council also unanimously approved a gun violence prevention resolution, which encourages the school system to “review school curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development” related to gun safety and suicide prevention.

Wilson said that it’s time to step back, listen and learn from the community on what it wants regarding safety in schools.

“I think out goal should be to, first of all, step back, listen and learn,” Wilson said. “I think part of the message here is a little bit of humility in our policymaking and a recognition that for a community as diverse, and with a set of needs that we have in our city, there’s not going to be a set of policies that would guarantee that our community is going to be immune from this kind of violence.”

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(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) The Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted City Manager Jim Parajon’s $839.2 million fiscal year 2023 budget on Wednesday night (May 4), and despite giving all city employees raises, Mayor Justin Wilson says inflation will likely mean more raises in future budgets.

“We’re staring into a significant inflationary environment that pinches our employees very hard, just like it pinches everyone hard,” Wilson said. “We’re going to have to continue to have this conversation every year about how we make sure we invest in the level of compensation and benefits required to not only attract but retain the best and the brightest in the city.”

The budget is an 8.9% increase from the FY 2022 budget, and includes a 7%  raise for firefighters, medics and fire marshals; a 6% raise for Police Department and Sheriff’s Office staff and a 4.5% raise for general city employees. That’s in addition to annual merit increases for city staff.

City residents can expect to pay an additional $445, or 6.5%, in real estate taxes, although Parajon’s budget maintains the current tax rate at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value. There are a number of other new fees, such as a $294 stormwater utility fee, which is a $14 increase over last year’s doubling of the fee from $140 to $280 to shore up flooding issues.

Council also approved Wilson’s proposal to increase annual residential and commercial refuse collection fees to $500 citywide (from $411 for commercial and $484.22 for residential collection). The $315,000 from the collected fees will fund a curbside food waste collection pilot.

This was the first budget for Parajon, who started work in January.

“This is a team effort and the fact we were able to put together what I think is a budget that truly is going to help a lot of people in the city,” Parajon said.

Councilman Kirk McPike said that he was proud to raise employee compensation, and that there is more work to do. McPike and his fellow new Council members Sarah Bagley and Alyia Gaskins were supportive of a 10% raise for AFD staff in February, as the department has struggled with recruitment, retention and compensation for years.

“I think that as a council we’re committed to doing more to help our firefighters and our police have the support that they need to give us the protection that the people of Alexandria deserve,” McPike said.

The budget also fully meet the requests of the Alexandria City Public Schools budget, which includes a 10.25% raise for teachers.

Council also unanimously approved the 10-year $2.73 billion Capital Improvement Program, which includes $497.8 million in investments for a new high school, renovations at 1705 N. Beauregard Street and two elementary school expansions.

The budget moves nearly $800,000 in Alexandria Police Department funding for School Resource Officers at Alexandria City Public Schools to a reserve account to fund six full time employees.

The budget includes:

  • $1.85 million for police body worn cameras
  • Expansion to Dash line 30
  • $95,000 to hire a social equity officer
  •  An additional Alexandria Co-Response team (ACORP), costing $277,000
  • $200,000 in reserve funding to support Metro Stage construction
  • Purchase of 4850 Mark Center Drive — the future home of the Department of Community and Human Services, the Alexandria Health Department and a West End service center

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Captain Mike Faber feels like he’s always working, and that the City of Alexandria owns he and his family.

Faber says he works an average of 80 hours a week, much of it forced overtime, and on Saturday (April 23) he was backed at City Hall by nearly a dozen Alexandria Fire Department staffers and supporters pleading for increased wages and upgraded equipment.

“In a sense, the City of Alexandria doesn’t just employ me, it owns me and my family, because my ability to participate in my home life is controlled by my employer,” Faber told City Council. “Even with mandatory overtime becoming a daily occurrence, we are still putting trucks, engines and ambulances out of service. As of today, we’ve had something out of service every day since August 12, sometimes having up to four or five units downgraded or pulled from service. That’s 254 straight days of providing suboptimal, and unnecessarily hazardous service to the members of our community.”

Josh Turner, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2141, said that there is a culture of “employees being stepped on, mistreated, and lied to.”

It’s a culture of doing more work, while being paid less,” Turner said. “It’s a culture of being undercut by management and city officials who care more about their perception than they do their employees.”

Turner said the proposed 6% salary increase in City Manager Jim Parajon’s new budget isn’t enough to slow an attrition rate that’s outpacing the number of graduates going through the Fire Department training academy. He also called out Council Members Alyia Gaskins, Kirk McPike and Sarah Bagley for supporting an Alexandria Democratic Committee resolution asking for a 10% pay increase for AFD staff in February.

That 10% increase would only cost $3.4 million,” Turner asked. “What happened to this promise and support?”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that there are no quick fixes to the department’s woes.

“It requires that we not only attract and train new staff, but also retain folks at higher rates than we have been,” Wilson told ALXnow. “We have added significant headcount in recent years (there is no major City Department that has grown as much as AFD), but it takes a while to staff up that quickly, given the training required. That being said, I would like us to continue to explore ways for us to recruit staff from around the region that are already trained and can be placed on the street more quickly than new recruits. That will enable us to reduce the overtime challenges that are negatively impacting our staff.”

AFD was challenged throughout the pandemic by short-staffing and even suspended annual leave in December when COVID-levels were on the rise. Also in December, the union decried the understaffing within the Department by stating that it put people and buildings at risk during a fire at Crystal City’s restaurant row on 23rd Street.

There are now 274 sworn employees and 23 civilian employees within AFD, and the the department needs 347 to be fully staffed. The numbers include 23 recent Recruit School graduates announced on April 15, and the new firefighters and EMTs spent seven months in training.

The department has also experienced an 8.6% attrition rate between April 25, 2021, and April 25, 2022, and the department averages nearly 28 holdover hours a day, and 9.26 people per day work 24 hours of overtime, according to AFD.

The Alexandria Fire Department is among the lowest paid in the region, with full-time firefighter salaries starting at $49,294. The department recently elected its first officers for collective bargaining, which will result in a labor agreement hammered out with the city by this fall.

Firefighter paramedic Alexander Lee is assigned to the training division, and says he has seen a 25% dropout rate in the staff he’s trained over the last six years.

“As a firefighter paramedic, I’ve been on calls where I’ve tried, in vain, to resuscitate a deceased infant, and then two hours later be told that I have to stay at work for another 24 hour shift due to short-staffing,” Lee said. “Members see other jurisdictions where their firefighters work less hours, make more money, spend more time with family and experience less burnout, and ask, ‘Why should I stay here?'” 

AFD Captain Sean Europe says he has worked 80 hours a week for nine months straight.

“One of the major things that has been getting me through this time is cherishing the moments that I am able to spend with my daughter who will be two in June,” Europe said. “As some of you with children may know, she’s reaching an age where she’s going to start remembering special occasions like her first Easter egg hunt.”

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More police officers, body worn cameras for cops and an additional raise for city employees are among the additions the Alexandria City Council hopes to adopt in their upcoming budget.

On Saturday (April 23), Council will hold a public hearing on their proposed additions and deletions to City Manger Jim Parajon’s fiscal year 2023 budget. The items under discussion will also be hammered out in a Council work session on (Tuesday) April 26 at 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

Mayor wants more cops

Mayor Justin Wilson is proposing to add six full-time employees to the Field Operations Bureau of the Alexandria Police Department. The move would cost $800,000, with funds being taken from the city’s School Resource Office contingent reserve.

Wilson says the move takes the SRO decision out of the budget process, and lets APD determine how those funds are allocated. Patrol operations lies within the Field Operations Bureau, and includes SROs.

“This means that the money that the manager set aside for SRO’s is being allocated to the police department for their staffing,” Wilson told ALXnow. “We will still figure out where the staffing will be, but this will focus it as a policy question, not a staffing/budget question.”

The Alexandria City Council defunded SROs last year, and then brought them back at the behest of the school system.

Speed cameras

The scene of a crash outside Jefferson Houston Elementary School, March 29, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Wilson also wants five photo speed cameras at school crossing zones, which would cost $490,000. The locations of the cameras would be determined by the Department of Transportation & Environmental Services.

The cameras would be paid for by revenues from tickets.

Body worn cameras

Body-worn camera (photo via Tony Webster/Flickr)

Speaking of cameras, Council Member Alyia Gaskins is proposing to increase body worn camera funding for APD officers by $1.4 million, which is in addition to the $600,000 federal earmark and $200,000 currently budgeted for the program.

The proposal would move $800,000 in unspent American Rescue Plan Act funds. The officers will be outfitted with body worn cameras starting this summer.

Additional raises for city employees

Alexandria first responders are already getting raises in Parajon’s budget, but City Councilman Kirk McPike thinks they need an additional 0.5% pay scale adjustment.

The $1.3 million in funding would be paid through city revenues, and is in addition to the proposed 6% raise for Alexandria Fire Department staff, a 5% raise for Police and Sheriff’s Office staff and the 4% raise for general employees.

The proposed add/deletes also include:

  • Increasing dedicated city revenue for affordable housing by a penny, bringing the total to $4.6 million in this year’s budget (Sponsored by Gaskins)
  • An additional Alexandria Co-Response team (ACORP), costing $277,000 (Sponsored by Vice Mayor Amy Jackson)
  • Hiring civil engineer for Alexandria’s Complete Streets Vision Zero projects, costing $150,000 a year (Sponsored by Council Member Sarah Bagley)
  • Increase the General Fund Reserve by $2 million for climate change initiatives ((Sponsored by Bagley)
  • Adding $500,000 to early childhood services in an undesignated contingency fund (Sponsored by Wilson)
  • Adding service lines to DASH, costing $3 million+ (Sponsored by McPike and Councilman Canek Aguirre)
  • A $10,000 bonus to all Alexandria Fire Department staff to get Advanced Life Support certification (Sponsored by Councilman John Taylor Chapman)
  • Adding a race and social equity position, costing $95,000 (Sponsored by Aguirre)
  • $200,000 in reserve funding to support Metro Stage construction (Sponsored by Jackson)

The budget will be adopted on May 4.

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Friends and city officials gathered outside City Hall yesterday to celebrate one of Alexandria’s most storied centenarians: J. David Bailey, the oldest surviving veteran of the Battle of the Bulge.

Bailey, who turned 100 on January 3, was 22 when he was deployed to the European theater with the 422nd Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division. His battalion was captured by German troops while en route to St. Vith, Belgium, on Dec. 16, 1944. Bailey later escaped captivity and eventually appeared on the cover of the victory edition of Stars and Stripes.

When asked how he escaped captivity, Bailey told ALXnow “I happened to be going the right direction at the right speed at the right time.”

Since then, Bailey has won numerous awards for his military service and has attended ceremonies commemorating the Second World War.

At the ceremony, Bailey was presented with folded flags from the state and national capitals, along with a challenge coin from the Alexandria American Legion Post 24 and a key to the city.

Upbeat music from the Alexandria City High School Jazz Band accompanied the ceremony. Congressman Don Beyer was around 50 years when Bailey was born and congratulated him on hitting twice that.

“This is not only to honor me, but the 10 million Americans who lived a regimented lifestyle,” Bailey said. “Tom Brokaw was right when he declared it the greatest generation… Thank you, not just from me, but from the greatest generation of which I’m proud to be a member.”

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Flyer calls for help for Ukrainians (via Northern Virginia Regional Commission)

Northern Virginia is coming together to help Ukrainians struck by war.

Local leaders and community members, organized by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, will launch a donation drive at the Fairfax County Government Center on Wednesday (March 23), collecting items through April 15 to send to refugees in Ukraine and Poland.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson will be among others at the donation drive’s launch on Wednesday, along with Fairfax County and Manassas leaders, according to a media advisory.

The donations will be accepted at over 30 locations — from libraries to supervisors’ offices and more — starting Wednesday (March 23). The event will be broadcast at 10 a.m. on the Fairfax County government’s Facebook page.

Requested items include new and gently used coats as well as new blankets, gloves, and pairs of sweat or heavy socks. More information about the drive, including a list of collection sites, can be found at helpukrainenova.org. In Alexandria, there will be two sites — one at City Hall and the other at Beatley Central Library.

The items will be boxed together with help from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Oakton congregation. Paxton Companies, a North Springfield moving business, will then shrink wrap boxes and transport them to Wilmington, North Carolina.

A business that wishes to remain anonymous will ship the donations overseas, bringing the supplies to trucks in Antwerp and a non-governmental organization that has a supply chain on the ground, NVRC executive director Bob Lazaro said.

The campaign came together after local elected leaders reached out to NVRC, seeking to replicate a similar effort by the area in 2013 to help Syrian refugees who fled a civil war that’s still continuing.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24. The war has now killed thousands of people — including at least 902 civilians — destroyed cities, and threatened the country’s sovereignty, causing over 3 million refugees to flee to neighboring countries.

The United Nations’ human migration agency reported that 3.3 million people in Ukraine have been displaced. Every minute, 55 more Ukrainian children become refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund has estimated.

“Our residents don’t want to stand by — they want to help,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “As we uplift and offer support to our residents of Ukrainian descent here in the County, we can also aid in efforts abroad, sending much needed supplies to the millions of displaced Ukrainians taking refuge in Poland.”

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