Police Department FAQs About Accountability and Use of Force

Page updated on Jun 22, 2020 at 8:59 AM

Frequently Asked Questions About Accountability and Use of Force

General

What is the mission of the Alexandria Police Department?

The mission of the Alexandria Police Department is to provide competent, courteous, professional and community-oriented police services. Alexandria maintains a modern, highly trained, technically skilled, energetic, diverse and well-equipped police department, with a current authorized strength of 320 sworn and 138 civilian employees. The Alexandria Police Department has been nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies since 1986.

Each police officer in Alexandria has sworn an oath to support the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and to faithfully and impartially discharge their duties.

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What general resources are available regarding the Alexandria Police Department’s approach to policing, use of force, and accountability?

The following resources are available to review online:

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How can I learn more about the Alexandria Police Department?

If you have any questions, please ask! General questions may be submitted through Alex311 online or by calling 311 or 703.746.4311. If you need immediate police assistance, call or text 911. For non-emergency requests requiring police response such as animal control, motor vehicle crashes without injuries, parking and noise complaints, lost or found property, or crimes that occurred in the past, call 703.746.4444.

The Alexandria Police Department participates in the Alexandria City Academy and operates a dedicated Community Police Academy and Youth Police Academy.  Many graduates of these hands-on training opportunities later become Alexandria Police Department volunteers.

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What are some of the types of training Alexandria police officers receive?

Following the recommendations outlined in the 21st Century Policing Plan, all officers received implicit bias training in 2019 and will complete regular refresher training. Officers must also complete continuing education training over the course of each two-year period, including cultural diversity training.

Alexandria police officers receive extensive training as part of their initial training at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy, a public agency that trains public safety and security personnel from many localities in the region. In 2004, the Academy became the third academy in the nation to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. Since 2007, the Academy has held the highest level of accreditation.

Alexandria police officers receive over 800 hours of basic training. Primary modules include criminal investigation, legal, patrol and skills. Recruits must maintain satisfactory scores in all modules, pass all state-mandated requirements, and pass all performance-based tests and examinations.

In addition to other topics covered in the four primary modules, academy training includes the following lecture and hands-on content:

Use of Force: (116+ hours)
Specific Use of Force – 37+ hours
General Defensive Tactics – 62+ hours
Crowd Control – 8 hours
Active Shooter – 8 hours
Bias Training: (21 hours)
Implicit Bias – 4 hours
Fair and Impartial Policing – 4 hours
Community Policing – 8 hours
Critical Incident Tactics (CIT) – 3 hours

Interpersonal Communication Training: (6 hours)
Interpersonal Communication – 5 hours
Active Listening – 1 hour

Ethics and Leadership (6 hours)
Ethics – 4 hours
Leadership – 2 hours

Communication-Specific Groups (9 hours)
Autism Awareness – 2 hours
Communicating with the deaf – 2 hours
Emotionally Disturbed Persons – 4 hours
Handicapped Persons – 1 hour

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Peaceful Protests

What is the Alexandria Police Department’s position on protests?

The Alexandria Police Department supports the peaceful expression of community concerns. Chief Brown and other officers have made it clear that the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, was an unacceptable abuse of power, and many City leaders have already spoken out in solidarity with protesters. Likewise, the Alexandria Police Department condemns any use of force against peaceful protesters. The Department is aware of many peaceful vigils, protests and other events planned, and will provide appropriate staffing to maintain public safety and traffic control.

Many members of the Alexandria Police Department, including the Chief, Assistant Chief and other officers and staff, have been proud to speak at recent events and stand and march alongside participants.

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the region, the safest place to be is at home. Northern Virginia is in Phase Two of the Forward Virginia reopening blueprint, which includes a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. Groups usually disperse when reminded to comply with the ban, and citations have not been needed for most of the pandemic.

Although organizers of protests, vigils and other similar events are asked to provide for physical distancing (including at least 6 feet between each participant and separation between each group of 50 people) there is no practical way for the Alexandria Police Department to enforce these requirements for very large gatherings. The approach that results in the greatest net benefit to public health and safety is for law enforcement agencies to work with event organizers to plan and carry out these events in a coordinated and deliberate manner.

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What relationships have the Alexandria Police Department built with Black leaders and organizations?

The Alexandria Police Department active engages with many Black leaders and groups, including the Alexandria chapter of the NAACP, African American clergy, and the local and national levels of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

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Use of Force

What is the Alexandria Police Department’s position on the use of force?

The Alexandria Police Department’s policy and primary value is the preservation of human life. The use of force, whether by officers or by members of the public, is dehumanizing and should be avoided when possible, even when legally justified. Law enforcement personnel are responsible for protecting life and property and apprehending criminal offenders, but the protection of life (including officers and members of the public) must always take priority. It is the policy of the Alexandria Police Department to only use the force necessary to accomplish lawful objectives.

Related Directives: 10.32 (Use of Force)

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Are Alexandria police officers required to de-escalate interactions when possible?

Yes. Alexandria police officers are required to de-escalate interactions and situations when possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance, and otherwise eliminating the need to use of force.  De-escalation is also incorporated into operational planning and deployment objectives.

Related Directives: 10.32 (Use of Force), 7.3 (Impact Weapons), 11.21 (Traffic Enforcement), 11.13 (Mental Illness Cases), 13.3 Annex 5 (Demonstrations and Civil Disorders), Agency Strategic Plan

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Are Alexandria police officers trained to de-escalate situations involving mental health crisis?

Yes. The Alexandria Police Department is a founding partner in the City of Alexandria’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT.)  Officers who complete CIT training are certified to recognize mental health issues and practice verbal de-escalation and active listening skills to reduce risk and avoid the use of force. Approximately 60% of Alexandria police officers are currently CIT-certified, with a goal of 100%.

Related Directives: 10.32 (Use of Force), 10.35 (Investigation of Lethal Force & In-Custody Deaths), 11.13 (Mental Illness Cases)

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Are Alexandria police officers required to give verbal warnings before using firearms?

Alexandria police officers are required to announce their intention to arrest prior to doing so, unless such announcement is impractical or will threaten someone’s safety. Officers are prohibited from firing warning shots for any reason; firearms may only be used when deadly force is necessary and justified.

Related Directives: 2.2 (Rules of Conduct), 10.32 (Use of Force)

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Are Alexandria police officers required to report each time they use force or threaten to use force?

Yes. Alexandria police officers are required to report, document and investigate each time they use or threaten to use force.

Related Directives: 2.2 (Rules of Conduct), 10.32 (Use of Force)

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How is information about officer-involved shootings collected?

The Alexandria Police Department reports officer-involved shooting data to the Virginia State Police through the Uniform Crime Reporting program, which in turn submits this data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Since 2019, the FBI has been compiling this data as part of the National Use-of-Force Data Collection and intends to begin publish summaries at least twice a year.

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Are Alexandria police officers required to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor?

Yes. Alexandria police officers are required to base their actions on proper and equitable application of the law.  Officers must not only report the improper actions of other officers and employees, but also their own improper actions that are in violation of policy or the law.

Related Directives: 2.4 (Non-Biased Policing), 4.19 (EAP/Early Intervention Program), Directive 2.2 (Rules of Conduct), 2.3 (Complaints and Disciplinary Action)

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Are Alexandria police officers permitted to use choke holds or neck restraints?

Because choke holds and neck restraints may cause lethal injury, Alexandria police officers are not permitted to use these tactics unless deadly force can be justified in a given situation. Deadly force is never permitted to retrieve evidence or detain a person who does not pose a substantial danger to others.

Related Directives: 10.32 (Use of Force)

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Are Alexandria police officers permitted to shoot at moving vehicles?

Alexandria police officers are prohibited from shooting at or from a moving vehicle, except as a last resort in the most extreme and exceptional circumstances when required to avoid immediate and clearly foreseeable danger of death or serious injury.

Related Directives: 10.32 (Use of Force)

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How often is force used by Alexandria police officers?

During 2019, Alexandria police officers used force against 28 individuals out of 4,316 individuals arrested (0.6%). For details, see the  Annual Use of Force Analysis

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Do Alexandria police officers use force proportionally in terms of race, ethnicity and sex?

As the chart below indicates, use of force by Alexandria police officers in 2019 was roughly proportionate by race and ethnicity to arrests for all groups except white males, against whom force was used at more than twice the rate of arrest.

Arrestees and Subjects of Force by Race and Ethnicity (CY 2019)

 

Arrestees Subjects of Force
White/Male/Non-Hispanic 12.4% 28.6%
White/Female/Non-Hispanic 5.6% 3.5%
Black/Male/Non-Hispanic 38.3% 42.9%
Black/Female/Non-Hispanic 12.0% 10.7%
Asian/Male/Non-Hispanic 1.0% -
Asian/Female/Non-Hispanic 0.5% -
White/Male/Hispanic 19.6% 14.3%
White/Female/Hispanic 4.7% -
Other/Unknown 5.9% -

Note that it is not meaningful to compare use of force demographics to resident population demographics, because force is only used against individuals being arrested and more than 97% of the population was not arrested. In addition, many arrestees were not residents.

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Accountability

Who helps the Alexandria Police Department stay accountable to the community?

The Alexandria Police Department is accountable to the community in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • Operating an internal reporting structure consisting of ranks up to the Chief of Police, who reports to a Deputy City Manager and City Manager appointed by the elected Alexandria City Council.
  • Close collaboration with the  Alexandria Human Rights Commission. Alexandria has been a leader in this type of partnership. Since 2006, the Department has met with the Commission to discuss any officer-involved shooting or use of a taser, as well as any complaint against an officer for harassment, demeaning language, or excessive use of force.
  • National accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies since 1986. The Department is currently accredited at the Gold level, which requires meeting 459 standards.
  • Voluntarily using the Virginia State Police to conduct independent investigations of any officer-involved shooting and any accusation of a criminal offense by an officer, in addition to required reviews by the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. This reform was instituted by Chief Brown in 2018.
  • Voluntarily using independent investigators for complaints against staff filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in addition to investigations conducted by the Alexandria Office of Human Rights.
  • Operating an Office of External Affairs and Professional Responsibility to promote public trust and effective management through a rigorous internal review process that allows the public and staff to redress grievances concerning the actions of Department employees. This office investigates all complaints submitted through the Department’s misconduct reporting methods or through the City’s Office of Internal Audit.
  • Compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations, including the Virginia State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

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Are Alexandria police officers permitted to cover or obscure their badge numbers or nameplates?

No. Alexandria police officers are required to display regulation nameplates and numbered badges on their outermost garments when in uniform (except raincoats). Officers will also provide their names or badge numbers upon request.

Related Directives: 6.3 (Uniform, Equipment and Appearance)

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How can I report misconduct by an Alexandria police officer or other employee?

The Alexandria Police Department actively encourages anyone with information about employee misconduct to report it as soon as possible. Complaints may be made in any form and may be made anonymously. To make a complaint, call the Office of External Affairs and Professional Responsibility at 703.746.6767, submit the report online, or mail it to Alexandria Police Department, Internal Investigations Section, 3600 Wheeler Ave., Alexandria, VA  22304. Complaints regarding bias may also be made by calling the Bias Policing Line at 703.746.1967.

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How many complaints must be made against an officer before they are disciplined or terminated?

The Alexandria Police Department uses an “early alert system” to identify officers or other employees with performance or disciplinary issues. The goal is to change the underlying performance or behavior issues before they escalate to disciplinary actions.  When disciplinary actions are taken, they are in accordance with Department and City policies. Depending on the type of violation and employee’s history, a variety of disciplinary actions may be implemented, including termination of employment. There is no single number of complaints required for discipline or termination; an officer who commits a single serious violation of policy may be terminated, and an officer who is the subject of multiple complaints may not be disciplined at all if the complaints are thoroughly investigated and determined to be unfounded.

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Are Alexandria police officers thoroughly vetted to ensure they do not have a history of abuse, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, or other discrimination?

All Alexandria police officers and other Department employees undergo comprehensive background checks upon hiring, including psychological and a polygraph examinations. Any officers who discharges a weapons in an officer-involved shooting incident must also pass a psychological examination prior to returning to full duty.

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What is the status of the Alexandria Police Department’s use of body-worn cameras and vehicle-mounted cameras?

The Alexandria Police Department is currently evaluating implementation of a pilot camera program. Program planning was recently delayed due to fiscal challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fiscal Year 2021 budget (beginning July 1, 2020) includes funding for a dedicated position to evaluate implementation, and the City’s Capital Improvement Plan notes that funding will be added in Fiscal Year 2022 for equipment and software. Police camera initiatives require significant new funding and policy development, including potential additional legal and IT staff in the Police Department, City Attorney’s Office, and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. Staff and systems are necessary to supervise and monitor compliance with camera policies; securely maintain an extraordinary volume of data files while maintaining and documenting chain of custody; make files available to authorized users as needed; respond to requests for files from members of the public and private attorneys; redact portions of files that would not be appropriate to release; and other administrative tasks.

Effective July 1, 2020, a new state law will prohibit implementation of body-worn camera systems by a law enforcement agency until the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services establishes a model policy and the agency adopts a local policy after receiving public comment and review.

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Is there a collective bargaining agreement between the Alexandria Police Department and its officers and other employees?

No. State law currently  prohibits localities from engaging in collective bargaining with employees. A new law, effective May 1, 2021, would permit localities to engage in collective bargaining. The state law prohibiting public employees from striking will remain in effect.  

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