Alexandria, VA

What a week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

The Alexandria City Council on Wednesday approved its Fiscal Year 2022 $770.7 million budget on Wednesday, and it includes a 2 cent real estate tax reduction. It’s the first time that’s happened in 15 years, and the budget also fully funds Alexandria City Public Schools’ request and includes a 1% raise for city and state employees.

But perhaps the biggest news of the week came with City Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to eliminate School Resource Officer funding from the budget. The effort was supported along by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Canek Aguirre and Councilman John Taylor Chapman, who voted along with the group after failing to save the program in a last-minute effort.

Crime stories dominated many headlines, and Police Chief Michael Brown spoke with us this week about his department’s efforts to reduce destructive elements throughout the city. More from that interview will be published next week.

In this week’s poll, we asked about the importance of political endorsements for local candidates. Out of 222 responses, 48% (107 votes) don’t consider endorsements while voting; 39% (86 votes) said endorsements influence their decision; and 14% (29 votes) feel that endorsements hold a lot of sway.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Parking issues plague Potomac Yard, city looks to create residential parking district
  2. Knife pulled on woman who chases would-be thieves in Old Town
  3. D.C. man arrested after 130 mph chase leads to crash on Interstate 495
  4. Police: Armed robberies occur minutes apart in Del Ray and Arlandria
  5. Two injured in hit-and-run in Old Town, driver leaves car and flees on foot
  6. Too noisy? City Council is considering revising Alexandria’s noise ordinance
  7. Alexandria City Council to end School Resource Officer program at Alexandria City Public Schools
  8. Alexandria man arrested for firing gun at 7-Eleven door near Braddock Road Metro station
  9. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  10. JUST IN: Power outages across Alexandria as strong winds hit the city
  11. What’s next for GenOn and the rest of Old Town North?

Have a safe weekend!

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Morning Notes

Elo’s Italian pop-up opens in Live Oak space — “The owners of Live Oak in Del Ray have opened a pop-up Italian restaurant in the Live Oak space in Del Ray. Chef Justus Frank is offering family Italian fare Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. Brunch is ‘coming soon’ according to the owners. The menu includes a variety of appetizers, flatbreads, paninis, seasonal pasta dishes, fish, chicken and more. A kid’s menu is available.” [Alexandria Living]

Police asking for help finding robbery suspects — “APD is following active leads and working with neighboring jurisdictions on the investigation into 2 armed robberies that occurred on May 5. One happened at 12:15pm on E. Oxford Ave. The second happened at 12:40pm in the 3900 blk of Courtland Cir… Witnesses and anyone with security video should contact Det. Stephen Riley at [email protected] or 703.746.6225. Even the smallest details can be significant.” [Twitter]

Chamber ALX releases City Council candidate survey results — “The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce recently asked all announced candidates to complete a survey of critical business issues facing our city. In order to ensure our members are informed prior to entering the voting booth, the Chamber is providing the candidate’s responses.” [Chamber ALX]

Alexandria resident Brian Hooks named to Time100 Next list — “Brian Hooks wants to change the country – but not by himself. An Alexandria resident, Hooks was named one of Time Magazine’s next 100 most influential people in the world in February for his work as the chief executive officer of nonprofit Stand Together.” [Alex Times]

City seeks input on American Rescue Plan Act funding — ” The City will host virtual meetings on Saturday, May 8 at 10 a.m. and Monday, May 10 at 7 p.m. to review the funding guidelines and discuss project proposals. The input will be used to inform a spending plan, and the deadline to provide feedback is Thursday, May 13.” [City of Alexandria]

Resurfacing work temporarily closes portion of Mount Vernon Trail — “In a step to prepare for an upcoming $6.5 million Mount Vernon Memorial Highway Trail Project on the south end of the Mount Vernon bike trail, a portion has been blocked off to bicyclists while crews resurface a portion of the trail between the Mount Vernon Plantation and Richmond Highway.” [Gazette]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies during the morning hours will give way to cloudy skies and rain in the afternoon. High 66F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch… Rain showers early with clearing later at night. Low 44F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 80%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Temporary COVID POD vaccinator assistant — “Are you a hardworking individual who is eager to join our efforts to augment and expedite vaccinations in the community? Does your passion drive you to commit to a cause that could have a positive impact on many? If this is you, we invite you to apply to one of our temporary City of Alexandria Vaccination site opportunities. One of which is the Vaccinator Assistant who assists the Vaccinator in efficiently dispensing COVID-19 vaccine according to existing protocols at PODs (Points of Distribution).” [Indeed]

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Once a week, Alexandria Police are walking through Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority properties with residents.

The visits are part of an effort that launched in January to build trust between police and the mostly Black community in Old Town, which has suffered under the increase of crime during the pandemic.

Kevin Harris, president of the ARHA citizens association, has worked closely with police to create the walkthrough program. Harris, who lives with his wife and four children on ARHA property, is also a Democratic candidate for City Council.

“We put out flyers ahead of time, letting people know what’s gonna go on,” Harris said on the Saturday morning visits from police. “It’s going great, and it clearly is something that [police] like and that they want to continue, and not just in on our properties but across the city.”

Police Chief Michael Brown said he plans on gauging neighborhood concerns at town halls in the near future.

“We really want to understand the silent voices in the community,” Brown said, adding that he’s talked with residents in private settings. “I’ve actually enjoyed that opportunity, because of the dialogue that we were able to have. The real issue here is not so much being forward-facing giving out just hot dogs, but listening to the concerns of the people that are there. That’s their community and we need to understand it.”

Just last month, a chase suspect died after being arrested after he and his passengers allegedly fired multiple bullets at buildings and cars near ARHA property in Old Town North. Six Alexandria Police officers remain on administrative duties pending the outcome of an internal investigation on the incident.

Brown also said that APD’s Community Relations Division is working on sending out multiple surveys to business and residential communities throughout the city on police and crime issues that need to be addressed. Additionally, officers will be focused on walking or bicycling through specific neighborhood beats — a far cry from the worst days of the pandemic when officers were being taken off the streets.

“This pandemic has been a struggle for everybody, and the police department as well,” he said. “We’d like to get back to normal as quickly as we can, but we’re still going to be safe about it.”

There was a surge in gunfire incidents and other crime last year, including a harrowing shootout that left a suspect dead. Three APD officers remain on administrative duties as a result of that incident as well. The incidents prompted ARHA to install security cameras at its properties.

ARHA CEO Keith Pettigrew says that most of the crime is from outside actors, not ARHA residents.

“Too many times they (residents) get painted with that brush that they’re the problem,” Pettigrew said. “ARHA residents want to be part of the solution.”

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Alexandria Police say that a discarded piece of plumbing was behind a street closure at Madison and N. Fairfax Streets in Old Town on Thursday afternoon.

Traffic was shut down for about 10 minutes as police investigated a report of a suspicious object in the area.

The object was later described by police as a sewer nozzle.

Map via Google Maps

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Alexandria Police have executed an emergency custody order (ECO) for a West End man with a history of mental illness and violent behavior.

As of April 21, Cody Patrick Canniff was under evaluation at Inova Alexandria Hospital after throwing a “large tree” at an Alexandria Police officer outside his apartment building in the 300 block of Yoakum Parkway. The incident was the second mental health complaint against Canniff that day.

Canniff was arrested for brandishing a firearm against a family inside a 7-Eleven convenience store in 2012, and was also arrested for assault and battery against his then-wife in October 2016.

Four years later, on Dec. 26, 2020, Canniff was then taken into custody under an ECO after allegedly throwing machetes at people from his balcony, according to police. Several knives and a Smith and Wesson handgun were seized.

“Mr. Canniff stated that the devil had taken custody of his body,” Police said of the Dec. 26, 2020 incident.

Canniff was also taken into custody for an ECO in February for allegedly walking around his apartment complex and threatening residents with a machete.

“During the incident, he was mentally unstable and not making coherent statements and also attempted to jump out the window,” police said in a search warrant affidavit.

Also in February, Canniff’s girlfriend reported to police that he abducted and physically assaulted her multiple times.

Police conducted another search for weapons at his apartment after he was taken into custody on April 21, and said in the search warrant that it was necessary to do so “for his safety as well as the community’s.”

Map via Google Maps

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Alexandria Police are investigating two armed robberies that occurred within a half hour of each other in Del Ray and Arlandria on Tuesday (May 4) afternoon.

A male victim was robbed of his cell phone at gunpoint by two male suspects at around 12:15 p.m. in the unit block of E. Oxford Avenue in Del Ray. Then at around 12:40, another male victim was robbed of his cell phone and wallet at gunpoint by two male suspects in the 3900 block of Courtland Circle in Arlandria.

“The suspects fled both scenes in a vehicle,” APD Senior Public Information Officer Amanda Paga told ALXnow. “Suspect descriptions are still being developed.”

No one was injured in the incidents.

E. Oxford Avenue map and Courtland Circle map via Google Maps

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A 27-year-old Texas man was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison today for his role in calling in a bomb threat to Alfred Street Baptist Church, as well as other “swatting” incidents against a U.S. Cabinet member, journalists and Old Dominion University.

John Cameron Denton of Montgomery, Texas, a leader with the Atomwaffen Division neo-Nazi group, participated with three others in at least 134 swatting attacks around the country between October 2018 and February 2019. He pleaded guilty last year after being arrested in a sting operation to committing an offense against the United States and interstate threats to injure.

Alfred Street Baptist Church was targeted on November 3, 2018, because it has a mostly Black congregation. A then-U.S. Cabinet official living in Northern Virginia was also harassed in 2019, as well as two swatting incidents at Old Dominion University in 2018.

Swatting is a harassment technique where the caller deceives first responders at targeted locations.

“In each instance, conspirators selected the targets and called emergency dispatchers with false claims of pipe bombs, hostage takings, or other violent activity occurring at the targeted locations,” according to the DOJ. “As a result of these swatting calls, police were dispatched to Old Dominion University and the Alfred Street Baptist Church, and individuals in each location were required to shelter in place while the bomb threats were investigated.”

During the sting operation, Denton admitted to personally choosing to “swat” the New York City office of ProPublica and an investigative journalist at the publication who published information on his identity and connection to the group. Denton also told the undercover officer that he used a voice changer when making the calls and that he hoped to be “raided”, because his arrest would be good for the image of the Atomwaffen Division.

“The reprehensible conduct in this case terrorized communities across our Nation, as innocent Americans simply tried to attend school, practice their faith, and exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement. “The defendants caused irreversible trauma to the victims of these hate-based crimes. This case sends an unmistakable message that those who target individuals because of their race, religion, or any other form of bias, will be identified, apprehended, and brought to justice.”

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The Alexandria City Council on Monday night effectively put an end to the School Resource Office program between the police department at Alexandria City Public Schools.

School resources officers (SROs), police officers stationed inside T.C. Williams High School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School, will no longer have offices in those schools.

Council deliberated for more than two hours over City Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to reallocate $789,909 for SRO funding to add mental health resources to ACPS, support staff to the Teen Wellness Center, hire an additional Behavioral Health Specialist to the Alexandria Crisis Intervention CoResponding Program Pilot.

“This has been a public discussion, and I have not heard from a school board member telling me to go out in different direction, or they’re willing to engage me on this issue,” Seifeldein said. “I have to believe what they’ve shown. Actions speak louder than words.”

At issue was a last minute proposal by City Councilman John Taylor Chapman to put the funds in contingent reserve, during a period that ACPS would meet certain benchmarks. Chapman’s proposal included asking ACPS to deliver a plan on working with the police department and private security on school grounds. The proposal died after not being able to get the support of four members of Council.

The decision comes after a contentious period of social unrest throughout the city.

“As a student I urge you to listen to us and place funds in mental health resources,” Sesen Tesfay, a T.C. Williams High School senior, told Council. “That would help our well being and bring much relief for my peers, families and community. We need you to prioritize something beneficial and not contribute to towards barriers we have been advocating on this issue for a very long time now and we are counting on your leadership to make a wise decision for us, the students.”

Seifeldein’s proposal also has the support of Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre – enough to pass in Wednesday night’s budget adoption meeting. The proposal requires an implementation plan from police and ACPS, which will be presented to Council by July.

“I’ve always been of the mindset that the police officers don’t have to be on campus to be able to still efficiently do what they’re doing,” Aguirre said. “Most everything that they’re doing, whether it’s the soccer program or they’re talking with kids during school at lunchtime or during a dismissal or arrival, they can still do that without being housed on campus.”

Last month, School Board members asked City Council to respect their decision on SROS after its bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with the police department.

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(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Traffic is reopening as Alexandria Police are investigating a hit-and-run crash at the intersection of S. Patrick (Route 1) and Franklin Streets in Old Town on Tuesday morning (May 4).

Two of the drivers were injured and transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries and the third driver left his car at the scene and ran away on foot, according to police.

A suspect description was not available.

The crash briefly shut down Franklin Street and one northbound lane of S. Patrick Street to traffic. At around 9:15 a.m., the three cars were towed away.

Map via Google Maps

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The Alexandria City Council will finalize their additions and deletions to the fiscal year 2022 budget tonight (May 3), and the future of school resource officers at Alexandria City Public Schools remains in question.

Last week, a majority of City Council was in favor of discontinuing the SRO program and diverting nearly $800,000 to “add mental health resources for school aged children, support staff to the Teen Wellness Center, an additional Behavioral Health Specialist to the ACORP (Alexandria Crisis Intervention Co-Responding Program) Pilot, and other similar needs identified by staff.”

If passed, the proposal would require an implementation plan from police and ACPS, and be presented to Council by July. It currently has the support of Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Mo Seifeldein, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre.

ACPS, however, is asking that Council respect its November 2020 memorandum of understanding with police.

The school system released the following statement to ALXnow:

In November 2020, the Alexandria City School Board approved a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Alexandria Police Department (APD) which clarified and refined the scope of the relationship between ACPS and the APD. In developing the new MOU, ACPS conducted an extensive review that incorporated concerns about the presence of armed school resource officers in some of our school buildings. The new MOU aims to increase accountability and equity while safeguarding the safety and security of our students and staff. The School Board is committed to following through on the adjustments in this agreement that require the collection of data and stronger monitoring and reporting on incidents of administrative discipline and law enforcement action in our schools.

In March, School Board members asked City Council to respect their decision on SROS after its bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with the police department.

“My request and hope would be that out of respect for the discussions that we have had as a School Board, and for the process that we went through, even as a matter of trust to give us time to do what we said we would like to do, that you would not take away that resource at this time,” said School Board Chair Meagan Alderton. “I don’t think it would be a productive way to address the issue that I think we all want to address.”

The final add/delete session for the fiscal year 2022 budget is at 7 p.m.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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