Monday, June 07, 2010

COPS on the Chopping Block

Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook is currently mulling over a critical decision involving police resources in our neighborhood.

Before July 1 — the start of the City's new fiscal year — he must cut one of the community oriented policing (COPS) positions in the City. And that cut might involve the second officer at the Bland housing project.

Currently there are 12 community police officers in Alexandria, including 8 COPS officers and 4 resident police officers (RPOs). In Sector I of the City, there are five COPS positions: two at Bland (one an RPO), one at Samuel Madden, one in the Inner City (West Old Town) and an RPO at Andrew Adkins.

It's a popular program and many neighborhoods with crime and quality of life issues would like to have a COPS position.

However, the threat of community police cuts loomed last fall. Early this year in the FY 2011 budget process, the Police Department proposed cutting three of the COPS positions or one in each area where two officers were assigned. That meant losing the officer at Bland (while retaining the residential officer), one officer in Arlandria and one in the Lynhaven/Hume Springs neighborhood. The Police Department anticipated saving $280,000 in direct and indirect costs by chopping the positions.

City Council restored much but not all of the funding this spring. Now only one position is in jeopardy and the Growler fears the decision where to cut will be swayed as much by politics as by statistics.

Why should the position at Bland be retained? When running the statistics from the Police Department Web site for Bland vs. Lynhaven and Hume Springs the past year (June 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010) the Growler found we had twice as many drug offenses as the two other areas combined (49 versus 26) and 30% more assaults (57 versus 40).

One offense in particular stands out: there were six times as many trespassing offenses at Bland as there were in Lynhaven/Hume Springs (65 compared to 11). As readers know, this difference can be attributed to the ARHA barment policy which is effective in keeping visitors with criminal convictions off the housing authority's properties.

This is significant because one trespassing arrest may prevent a host of crimes. If the capability to make these arrests is eroded because there are fewer police on hand, we are in for a potentially long, hot summer because the bad guys will find it easier to slip in. Watch the crime rate spiral then, particularly drug offenses.

One rationale the Growler suspects will probably surface for cutting the Bland officer is that redevelopment is now truly launched. However, only Phase I is underway at this time, and it covers less than a full city block, since most of the 700 block of N. Columbus Street consists of private homes. Only the tip of the iceberg will be affected this year.

So are there other alternatives?

The Growler was intrigued to notice earlier this year when the budget memos on COPS were issued that there are positions assigned to three apartment complexes elsewhere in the City: Crestview, Cameron Commons, and Hampton Court. None of these three positions was even mentioned in terms of cuts yet the crime numbers and the seriousness of offenses in those complexes pales in comparison to what happens in our neighborhood.

It is only common sense to assign police resources where they are most needed. The Bland COPS officer needs to stay.

If you want to make yourself heard on this issue, click here to send an E-mail to the Chief with a copy to the Mayor and Council.