Alexandria, VA

Alexandria Police are reporting no known threats to the city in the run up to the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Wednesday, Jan. 20, and the city is not planning to impose 6 p.m. curfew that night.

Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow that he sees no reason that a curfew will be necessary, as the Alexandria Police Department has been working closely with federal and regional law enforcement partners.

“At this point, we see no reason that will be necessary,” Wilson said. “Our police have been working closely with federal and regional partners for months to prepare for this period and I am confident they will keep our community safe.”

The city will activate its Emergency Operations Center on Jan. 20, and residents are asked to virtually observe the swearing-in of President-elect Joe Biden.

The governor imposed a 6 p.m. curfew on Alexandria and Arlington on Jan. 6 after the siege at the U.S. Capitol. The District will remain in a state of emergency until the day after Biden and Harris are inaugurated.

On Tuesday night, Police Chief Michael Brown briefed City Council on preparations in the run up to the inauguration, and said that the department’s civil demonstration unit is ready to be deployed.

Also this week, Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker asked Alexandria hotels to cancel reservations for any members of the Proud Boys, an aggressive group that supports outgoing President Donald Trump.

See the full release from the city below the jump.

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The Alexandria School Board last Thursday approved a revised bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers in the city’s public schools.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. also said that all Alexandria City Public Schools employees will get racial diversity training.

“That is what’s going to help us to tackle some of those racial disparities, because unfortunately society has made black and brown people in general seem as if we are criminals, and that is the perception that people have in their minds,” Hutchings said.

Last month, parents, students and community advocacy representatives railed against SROs, and said they foster an inappropriate culture of prejudice against non-white students. LaDonna Sanders, president of the Alexandria NAACP, filed a Freedom Of Information Act and found that in 2018 there were 140 out-of-school suspensions, and that a “significant enough proportion of the suspensions involve referrals to law enforcement.”

However, “In the event of a significant and articulable threat to health or safety school or for school officials may disclose any information from student records to the appropriate parties, including law enforcement officials, whose knowledge of the information is needed to protect the health and safety of a student or other individual,” according to the MOU.

The Board approved the MOU 6-3, and Board Members Michelle Rief, Jacinta Green and Heather Thornton voted against its approval. As previously reported, the MOU has “measurable objectives” for SROs, meaning that the officers have to complete statistical reports, data collection for quarterly performance reports, and after-action reports after incidents with students.

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Alexandria is asking local drivers to be particularly mindful of safe driving this week as children, who may not adhere as closely to regulations as adults, take to the streets to trick or treat.

While traditional trick or treating has been discouraged this year in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s still likely that this weekend will see a noticeable uptick of children on city streets. City Council declared this week as “Pedestrian Safety Awareness Week” in early October in light of the potential risk.

“The last week of October and the first weekend of November coincides with Halloween and children are considered vulnerable road users that are more severely affected by crashes,” the city said in a proclamation, “and November 1st is when Day Light Savings ends, and sunset arrives an hour earlier during Standard Time.”

There is also a new law in Virginia for drivers to bear in mind.

“Alexandria Families for Safe Streets and the Alexandria Police Department want to remind drivers about a recent Virginia Traffic Law that requires drivers to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, instead of just yielding,” said Mike Doyle, founding member of Alexandria Families For Safe Streets. “Drivers must come to a full stop for pedestrians in any marked and unmarked crosswalks and remain stopped until the pedestrian passes your vehicle is stopped at a crosswalk, the driver of any other approaching vehicle may not pass the stopped vehicle.”

According to the proclamation, there were 184 vehicle/pedestrian crashes in Alexandria between 2017 and 2019, with 20 serious injuries to pedestrians and 8 pedestrians killed. Crashes have been more likely to occur in the fall and winter months as a result of the shorter days and inclement weather.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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City Councilman Mo Seifeldein says that the community police review board proposal going before City Council tonight (Tuesday, September 8) is “dead in the water.”

The proposal from Council was approved unanimously in June, and does not give the review board the ability to independently investigate police misconduct and issue subpoenas if necessary. The request to include the authority was made by the NAACP, Tenants and Workers, and other local groups, Seifeldein said.

“The Police Review Board Recommendation, while well intentioned, is DOA as it is deaf to the pain of over policed communities, disregards an expressed request by Council, and is essentially a glorified pacifier,” Seifeldein told ALXnow. “I am looking forward to the justification of this proposal.”

Seifeldein introduced the legislation that passed unanimously in June. In Virginia, there are such boards in Fairfax County, Virginia Beach and Charlottesville.

Council will also review a resolution that “recognizes the urgent need to adopt a police body worn camera policy and it shall make it a priority in the City Council work plan.”

The proposal, which was drawn up by the city manager’s office, states that the board will “provide meaningful assessments and corrective recommendations intended to remedy discriminatory practices, including race and social inequities, that it may find.”

The proposal would limit the board from investigating complaints that occurred before June 9, which is the date that council voted for the creation of the board. That includes any complaints against the department, “any financial management, or procurement decisions made by APD… individual hiring, assignment and promotional decisions made by the APD,” according to the proposal.

As previously reported, there has been a renewed focus on police activities this year. During the worst days of the pandemic, patrol officers were sent home to telework, and there were demonstrations throughout the city in the wake of the death of George Floyd. In July, an internal survey of one of the police department unions found that a majority of officers surveyed were upset over the firing of an officer for unjustified use of force. The survey by the Alexandria chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association found that morale was low and a majority of officers surveyed were wary of not receiving a fair administrative process if their conduct is called into question.

Police Chief Michael L. Brown said in June that such a review board has a negative connotation.

“I do not disagree with the concept of oversight,” Brown said. “I may be mincing words here, but a ‘review board’ as its phrased in our world, in policing, has a very negative connotation.”

The proposal states that the board would be made up of:

  • Seven city residents appointed by Council
  • Three members from historically racially or socially marginalized communities that have “commonly experienced disparate policing in the city”
  • A representative from a racial or social justice organization
  • A member with law enforcement experience
  • Four members would serve three year terms, three members would serve on the inaugural board for 18 month terms

Badge photo via Alexandria Police Department/Facebook

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The following Letter to the Editor was written by Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley.

Like every emergency, the Alexandria Fire Department approached this pandemic with the mindset that we will win the fight, no matter the circumstances – and that is NON-NEGOTIABLE. We have found the courage to redefine ourselves and think outside of the box to try new things in response to something we have never faced before.

I believe that together we can all find that courage as we continue to adjust and hold on to some form of normalcy in this current situation.

When I was officially named the Fire Chief for the Alexandria Fire Department in December 2019, I would have never thought our city would be facing an ongoing, global public health crisis within a few short months.

As a new chief, this can seem overwhelming, and make no mistake about it, COVID-19 is one of the greatest nemeses I have ever encountered to-date.

However, I knew what I was signing up for and I want to be battle-tested for future challenges. But I am not facing this alone. Your Fire Department is a team of talented, skilled and prepared individuals who are risking their own safety to respond to every single emergency call we receive.

The inherent qualities of the fire service profession are compassion, care, preparation, adaptability and teamwork, and we get to demonstrate those qualities even more during this unprecedented global pandemic.

I have seen many AFD leaders emerge during the COVID-19 response, and that increases my passion for fire service and for helping the community. And that is the behavior and character I want to see spread throughout our department – especially in times of crisis. I am honored to be a part of the AFD team, and I could not be prouder of the work our members are doing during this emergency.

I want to reiterate that it is important that everyone does their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping your families and our community safe. We’re all in this together.

Over the past couple of months, we have developed new procedures for emergency calls to keep everyone safe as we continue to carry out our mission.

As you continue to do your part by staying home, maintaining physical distancing and donning face masks when in public spaces, your Fire Department is taking every necessary step to keep our members safe and healthy so we can continue to respond to emergencies.

I have served the public in various ways my entire adult life, including eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve, six years in the Alexandria Fire Department, and nearly 30 years in the National Capital Region. Like many of the members of AFD and our regional public safety partners, I have served my community through various local and national emergencies including major fire incidents, mass shootings, significant weather events, mass gatherings, 9/11, H1N1, and now the coronavirus.

Over the years and through all those incidents, I have learned that our response is only as good as our partnerships with the community and other stakeholders. As the city’s former emergency manager, I recognize that the very first responders are members of the community.

The Alexandria community has not disappointed. You have offered your assistance in helping to feed our firefighters and paramedics; identified gaps and developed ways to meet those needs; and created ways to obtain and/or clean our personal protective equipment (PPE).

Now, I acknowledge that after months at home you may be feeling stressed, anxious and even afraid. We understand, because during these unusual times we are experiencing those feelings as well. Through it all, AFD remains ready to assist the community. Because, like the rest of the Alexandria community, we are strong, courageous and resilient.

Stay encouraged. Stay informed. Stay safe and healthy and we will get through this together.

ALXnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity, at our discretion.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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A survey of Alexandria City Public Schools’ drinking water sources has come back with relatively high levels of copper and lead in George Washington Middle School (1005 Mount Vernon Avenue).

Many of the schools had no outlets or very few that tested above action levels — amounts that require equipment replacement — for copper or lead. The EPA’s action levels for copper are 1.3 mg/L and much lower for lead, 0.015 mg/L. At T.C. Williams High School, 259 samples were collected and only four tested above actionable levels.

At George Washington Middle school, however, 15 of the 132 samples tested high for either copper or lead.

ECS Mid-Atlantic, which tested the water supplies, noted that efforts were made to collect a sample from every sink, water fountain, bottle refilling station and water fountain in the building.

“Some areas within the building were locked,” the report said. “ECS was informed by an ACPS representative that sinks were not located in the locked areas. Please note that ECS observed a sink in a locked closet in the cafeteria that was unable to be sampled.”

A map of the samples collected around George Washington Middle School shows that the samples with elevated lead were from across the school, though eight of them concentrated around the gym area. The report suggest that, going forward, the building be checked periodically, at a minimum of every three years.

It’s been a rough year for safety issues at George Washington Middle School, with a series of fire alarm incidents last fall and a student-led fight to prove the school still had a mold problem. The school was evacuated two weeks ago because of a gas smell, though the principal said there was ultimately no danger.

Francis C. Hammond Middle School didn’t fare much better in the water testing, with 7 of the 72 samples tested showing elevated levels of lead.

All of the high copper and lead water sources in both schools were in sinks, as were most across the other schools. The following schools had high levels of copper or lead in water fountains, though only generally in one per school.

  • Early Childhood Center
  • Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology
  • John Adams Elementary School
  • Matthew Maury Elementary School
  • Mount Vernon Community School
  • Patrick Henry K-8

Full reports on each school, and the final reports for each location, are available online.

According to the school website:

Any outlets with higher than usual levels have already been taken out of use and will continue to remain out of use until the issue has been fixed. Parts of the units will be replaced and/or the lines flushed. Once this work has been completed, the water will be retested and ACPS will collect follow up samples to ensure it remains within safe limits in the future.

Higher than normal levels of lead or copper in an outlet can be caused by deterioration of the pipes or from the faucet itself. Lead was sometimes used in metal alloys to make fixtures prior to 1987. It is anticipated that the replacement and/or repair of the outlets will quickly solve this issue.

ACPS is working closely with the Alexandria Health Department on this issue. Water testing will continue to be carried out throughout the school division and all reports made public on the ACPS website.

ACPS advised that parents concerned about their child’s exposure to lead should have them tested at a pediatrician or family doctor.

“If you do not have a pediatrician or family doctor, call Neighborhood Health at 703-535-5568 to make an appointment,” ACPS said on the website.

Image via Alexandria City Public Schools

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Several Alexandria Fire Department units responded as mutual aid to a crash on the GW Parkway in Fairfax County this afternoon.

The crash happened just before 1:30 p.m. at the GW Parkway intersection with Belle View Blvd. At least one of the victims was initially reported to trapped in their vehicle, potentially requiring extrication.

An ALXnow photographer arrived as one of the vehicles involved, a red sedan with heavy passenger side damage, was loaded onto a flatbed tow truck.

The intersection is likely familiar to many who commute to and from Alexandria and points south. It, along with the nearby intersection of the GW Parkway and Belle Haven Road, are among the most dangerous and crash-prone in the area — prompting the National Park Service to hold recent public meetings and consider new safety improvements.

Particularly for those turning left at both intersections, to head north on the Parkway, the maneuver requires dodging fast-moving southbound traffic and then waiting in a barely-wide-enough median for fast-moving northbound traffic to clear. Turning left from the northbound lanes of the Parkway onto either road is similarly death-defying.

More from a December article on Covering the Corridor on potential safety improvements:

Recent Park Police efforts to improve speed enforcement along the entire Parkway between I-495 and Mount Vernon have led to a 35 percent reduction in motor vehicle accidents between 2018 and 2019, Cuvelier said. The superintendent added that public opinion about installing speed cameras was about evenly divided, but that the cameras raised a larger issue involving data requirements.

More than half the comments submitted so far have been related to the Belle View Boulevard and Belle Haven Road intersections, where nearly 125 crashes occurred over a five-year period.

To help improve intersections that are currently difficult to navigate — especially when making left turns — the Park Service proposed solutions like road diets and roundabouts, including ones at Morningside Lane. Some of these proposals will require more investigation, Cuvelier acknowledged, due to potential downsides like queuing.

Thus far, no serious injuries have been reported following this afternoon’s crash.

Street view photos via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

APD Launches Safety Campaign for Officers — “Commuters often hear about the importance of safety on the road, but a new police program in Alexandria, Virginia, seeks to help officers keep themselves out of harm’s way on the road. Through its newly-launched, 12-month ‘Safety First — Every Shift, Every Call’ campaign, Alexandria police will provide officers with monthly safety tips throughout 2020 on topics like safe driving tactics, traffic stops and driving while fatigued.” [WTOP]

Drug Take-Back Day Coming Soon — “Alexandria encourages residents to safely dispose of prescription and over-the-counter medications, including those prescribed by veterinarians, during National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. A special collection will take place on January 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., although medications may also be taken year-round to one of the permanent drop box locations.” [City of Alexandria]

High School Basketball Team Eyes Playoffs — “Last year, the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes boys’ varsity basketball team won the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association state tournament for the first time since 1990. This year, they’re going for a repeat.” [Alexandria Times]

Al’s Donating in Honor of Anniversary — “Al’s Steak House, 1504 Mount Vernon Avenue, is celebrating 65 years as the ‘King of Cheesesteaks’ by giving back. To celebrate the milestone, Al’s is donating 65 cents for every sub sold during the month of January to Community Lodgings.” [Zebra]

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It’s rare for a Facebook group to be the topic of discussion at the City Council dais, but Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet is no ordinary page.

The group started as a small forum for drivers and residents to express their frustration over the city’s change to a portion of Seminary Road — reducing vehicle travel lanes from four lanes to two, with a turn lane in between, to allow for greater pedestrian and bicycle space.

The change led to traffic congestion for commuters, at least initially, as construction got underway. While the construction has mostly finished, the frustration in the group remains intense.

The backlash to the street change has inspired everything from banners along the street calling to “Retake Seminary Road” to a burger named after that and other Alexandria controversies.

For better or worse, the nearly 1,200 member group has become the digital hub of opposition to the changes on Seminary Road. City officials have been engaged in a long-running debate with residents in the comments section and the Facebook group took center-stage at a spat between two City Council members in a discussion last week about pausing work on Seminary Road.

The group was recently made private, meaning only those who join are allowed to comment and view posts, but while it was public it was extraordinarily active. Members would create numerous new posts every day, and those posts would in turn attract comments, often by the dozen.

There were a few frequent themes of those posts: photos of morning or evening rush hour traffic, links to news articles or videos about the Seminary Road changes, and ideas for how to pressure officials to change the road back to the way it was before.

The level of engagement on the page, and with the issue in general, is — to many — out of proportion to the actual stakes involved.

Chris Weymont, Bill Rossello and Keith Reynolds are the three administrators of the page, and each describes themself as a reluctant advocate drawn into a transportation policy argument.

“It started off on a Friday night with 10 invites and its grown exponentially,” Reynolds said. “I was a disgruntled resident. I thought it would gain a little bit of traction, but not this much. It continues to grow as people continue to find out about the page.”

While Reynolds said he set up the page to act as a forum to air complaints about the new Seminary Road changes, moderating the page started taking up more and more time. That was when Weymont and Rossello, two active early members of the page, were invited to join a small administrative team.

“I started to see some things going on that I didn’t like over a period of time, particularly after the King Street road diet,” Rossello said of his activism.

Rossello said he maybe gets on Facebook to post once or twice a year, but became involved with the page through neighborhood listserv Nextdoor and the Seminary Hill Association. Rossello said he was not active in local civic groups before becoming involved in the Seminary Road debate, but has since been elected to the Seminary Hill board and has been asked to become a member of the Alexandria Civic Federation.

“It grew out of angst a year and a half ago,” Rossello said. “Now I’m in the thick of it.”

Weymont joined later but has been one of the more active administrators in the group — weighing in on discussions and tagging relevant people. According to Weymont, the traffic issue has transcended every other partisan divide, with both avowed Democrats and die-hard Republicans standing side-by-side against the road diet.

“We’re not surprised in multiple ways,” Weymont said. “We know how badly the bike lobby and Mayor wanted this. When it comes to traffic, it’s a quality of life issue, for hardened Democrats and hardened Republicans.”

The group most commonly pointed to as the “bike lobby” is the Alexandria Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), a local volunteer organization that has been involved in promoting the road diet.

“We feel like we have taken back Seminary Road,” said Jim Durham, chairman of BPAC.

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A regional nonprofit is again planning to offer free rides through Lyft to help keep drunk drivers off Alexandria streets during the holidays.

Starting on Dec. 20, the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) will offer its annual Holiday SoberRide program nightly from 10 p.m.-4 a.m., until Jan. 1.

In addition to Alexandria, the program is offered to rides in D.C., Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia.

According to a press release:

Each evening, during this six-hour period, area residents age 21 and older celebrating with alcohol may download Lyft to their phones, then enter a SoberRide code in the app’s Promo section to receive their no cost (up to $15) safe transportation home. A separate Holiday SoberRide promo code will be posted at 9:00 pm on December 20, 27 and 31.

WRAP reported that 1,988 people in the D.C. area used the SoberRide program last December. The program also offers free rides on St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Independence Day and Halloween.

“More than a third (38%) of all U.S. traffic fatalities during the holiday season in 2018 involved drunk drivers according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of WRAP, said in the press release.

Image via WRAP

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