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Funding Runs Out for Arlandria Attorney's Office

Work will continue in community; more resources added to gang-related issues.

Arlandria is losing a helping neighbor. After three years serving that community, the Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office is closing, but the work will continue.

The Arlandria office was opened in July, 2001, with funding from a federal grant. Over the three year period, the U. S. Department of Justice gave the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office approximately $300,000. This paid for an attorney, one full-time office staff member, rent and utilities. The grant ended on June 30.

“The only thing that has changed is that we no longer have office space in Arlandria,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel. “Other than that, we are going to continue all of the good things that Tom has been doing.”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Cullen has worked in the office since it opened. “I believe that we have done a lot of good over the past three years,” he said. “Many people who were afraid to come forward as witnesses to crimes or as victims of crimes are now more willing to do so. They are not so afraid that we are going to consider their immigration status when we work with them.

“Also, we have done a lot of work with residents and businesses in the community in making that neighborhood a better place in which to work and live. We have coordinated many efforts with other city agencies in making sure that trash is picked up regularly and that signs are properly maintained."

CULLEN SAID his office was a place where brochures were kept on all sorts of issues and a place where people felt safe to come and talk. "I am glad that I am going to be able to continue my work in the community and I am sorry that we will not have the space any longer,” Cullen said.

The police agreed with Cullen. “Tom has been a tremendous resource to the officers who work in that community,” said Amy Bertsch, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Police Department. “We are sorry to see the office close but are looking forward to continuing to work with Tom.”

Some of that work will be conducted out of the Police Department’s satellite office on Mt. Vernon Ave. “There is a desk there and they have been very good to make that available to us,” Cullen said.

If that space turns out not to be sufficient, Sengel said he would look at the issue. “We want to try things this way for the time being,” he said. “We certainly want Tom to continue working with the community.”

Cullen will continue to spend a great deal of time in Arlandria and will work with groups concerning domestic violence, gang prevention and other law enforcement-related issues.

“We have made great strides with this community and that work is going to continue,” Sengel said.

ALEXANDRIA IS ONE of five Northern Virginia jurisdictions that will receive support from funding that Governor Mark Warner has earmarked to fight gangs in the region.

The five prosecutors met this week to discuss just how that money can best be used. “We are proposing to hire one additional attorney for each jurisdiction,” said Sengel. “This would allow each of us to hire a seasoned prosecutor and not incur additional overhead that would come from setting up an entirely separate regional gang office.”

Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties would each get about $70,000 for salaries. “Then each jurisdiction would have to put in some additional money for fringe benefits,” Sengel said.

The five new prosecutors would work together on regional gang-related issues, meeting once each month and assisting across jurisdictional lines, if needed. “We all believe that this makes the most sense,” Sengel said.

The proposal goes to the Commonwealth Compensation Board and to the governor for approval. A decision is expected in the next few weeks.