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Letter to the Editor: Best Use Of Police?

To the Editor:

Mayor Euille, Chief Cook, City Council Members, the wonderfully warm and sunny Memorial Day weekend is over. It is time to answer a few questions. How many officers were committed to “traffic enforcement” at the intersection of King and Union Streets on each of the holiday weekend days? What times did they work the intersection? How many tickets did they write during the specific man-hours dedicated to efforts there? What quotas or other parameters were associated with this enforcement activity? Who planned and authorized the ambush operation? The questions need to be answered because Old Town is teetering dangerously close to earning the reputation of “Old Town: The City of Dirty Tricks.”

At approximately 11:35 a.m. on Sunday, May 26, my wife and I experienced first-hand the roadway obstruction and significant traffic hazard posed by a three-officer team issuing tickets to drivers turning left from eastbound King Street onto northbound Union Street. We were smack in the middle of the situation.

Any conscientious driver approaching the intersection at King and Union is focused on the mass of pedestrians, the white wood blockade in the middle of the lane blocking traffic from continuing eastbound on King, and traffic, including a large trolley car, traveling westbound from the stop sign at King and Union. Local drivers are acutely aware of the number of pedestrians crossing at the intersection as well as the fact eastbound traffic is frequently blocked from moving any further on King Street; necessitating a left hand or right hand turn. In fact, residents are conditioned to think in those terms. Out of town drivers are most certainly focused on the pedestrian commotion and are faced with a left or right turn decision.

On Sunday, as I approached the intersection traveling eastbound on King Street, I was absolutely concerned with the pedestrians and trolley car. Since I'm a former law enforcement officer I took special note of three uniformed officers converging on the northeast corner of the intersection; an out-of-character circumstance to be sure. My wife who is retired from law enforcement made the same observation concerning the officers. As I entered my left-hand turn onto Union Street one of the officers stepped into my lane and motioned me to stop. No sooner had I stopped than another officer waved-down a car behind me; resulting in the officer standing next to my car directing me to pull forward as he asked for my driver’s license and registration.

It is important to understand the situation at this point. Officers are standing next to vehicles stopped in the northbound lane of Union Street traffic, within 30 to 40 feet of the intersection itself, while both northbound and southbound Union Street traffic is trying to get through using only the southbound lane — and a crush of pedestrians is trying to cross the street. At the same moment, another car is attempting to turn left from King onto Union and a third officer is waiting in anticipation. To make matters worse, apparently traffic can no longer turn left onto westbound King Street from northbound Union Street; meaning there was no relief for vehicles traveling northbound on Union.

While waiting for the officer to return my license, registration, and the summons he was writing, my wife noted another officer directing a car with out-of-state plates to pull in front of our car. A little later during our observation we noticed another car with out-of-state plates being pulled over.

After signing and receiving my summons, my wife and I continued onto brunch. After eating, we traveled back through Old Town on southbound Union Street at approximately 12:30 p.m. On reaching the intersection of Union and King Streets, we observed two vehicles make the left hand King-to-Union turn without being stopped as well as other vehicles on King with their left-hand turn signals blinking. There were three police cruisers parked at the dead-end of King Street, another cruiser parked curbside in the no-parking southbound lane of Union Street just south of King, and a police motorcycle parked curbside directly in front of the Starbucks on the corner of the intersection. However, there was not an officer in sight and no one was being cited.

Clearly the officers working the intersection of King and Union were following orders they received from the chain-of-command. They did not concoct this targeted enforcement operation themselves. So, who determined filling the city’s coffers was the best use of Alexandria’s limited police resources on a busy holiday weekend? Who decided that it would be best for the influx of holiday weekend tourists to pay into the city’s treasury rather than to spend their hard-earned money with local merchants? These realities must have been discussed when considering the issuance of summons and not warnings. Who failed to realize that this operation would create a traffic hazard and obstruction? Who missed the fact that simple signs, without any attention getting yellow or red flashing lights, would be lost in the clutter of the busy intersection?

I will show up to court as directed on my summons. I think it is important to get the facts of this matter on-the-record. Hopefully, the record will also reflect my embarrassment concerning a leadership attitude in Old Town Alexandria which is inconsiderate of residents and visitors. Perhaps the record will reflect my confusion concerning employment of our limited police resources. Isn’t a plain clothes officer stationed near the Citibank ATM on Washington Street ticketing the never-ending procession of people who stop in the no-stopping zone and block traffic, so they can run into the ATM, a course of action that provides greater benefit to the city?

W.R. Krieg

Alexandria