Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Alexandria Police Department Has a Systemic Racism Problem

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Alexandria Police Department Has a Systemic Racism Problem

The Alexandria Police Department is one of the most professional and respected law enforcement agencies in the country. And yes, the Alexandria Police Department does have a systemic racism problem within it. The two can be synonymous.

I recently retired after serving 30 years of law enforcement service with the City of Alexandria and I thank the City for giving me an opportunity to live out my childhood dream. I was able to develop lifelong friends amongst all races. I was fortunate to have a career to include experience with the Alexandria Office of Sheriff, as a Patrol Officer, Community Oriented Police Officer, Detective, Sergeant and Lieutenant. My command experience oversaw the COPS units, the Patrol Support Division, HR overseeing recruitment and Records. I was also one of the department's Implicit Biases Instructors. I use this as a backdrop to say that I believed that I had a successful career. As a Black officer, this career was also filled with plenty of racist footnotes within it.

I remember walking into roll call in 1992 and out of approximately 60 officers on the entire midnight shift, I was one of two Black officers. What was more troubling, when you fast forward to 2012-2016, the number of Black officers in the department had dropped to alarming low levels. And to give credit to the City and the Department, they took immediate action to address it but in the modern era of minority hiring this should not have happened.

When white officers state that the Alexandria Police Department does not have a problem with systemic racism because it is a professional law enforcement agency, this often is looked upon suspiciously from Black officers. It is quite easy for my white brothers and sisters in blue to make this statement because they are not the subject of it and therefore, may not see it.

But if they come and talk to me, I will tell them about the time when a retired officer and current city employee said, "Yeah, when Blacks he arrests make him mad, he calls them N-word."

I will tell them about the time when I submitted my statement on a Use of Force Investigation where my statement aligned with that of the Black arrestee and not the white officer and the investigating retired Sergeant informed me that if I didn't change my statement, "there would be a time when I go into a dark alley and would not get a backup." I would tell them about the time when a retired Deputy Chief referred to the Alexandria Black Firefighters Association's money as "confederate money." I would tell them about the time when a current Commander, after this country elected its first African American President, said "See what happens when you are raised by a white family." This commander went on to question the department's minority hiring.

Look, I can go on and continue to cite more incidents and more stories that are not unique. I am also sure that if you would ask every Black officer in the department, they would have their own stories.

This problem is not even unique to the police department. If you went over to the Sheriff's Office, I am sure the large number of line level staff would share how they feel isolated because of a department that continues to hire whites from outside the agency for leadership positions that they could have competed for if they were allowed. The Black firefighters, I am sure, could cite a book of systemic racism within their agency.

This is not meant to pound on the Police Department or other Public Safety Agencies within Alexandria. It is meant to educate us all that we can work for a very professional agency and still have a problem with racism within it. We must acknowledge that the problem is real and current to effectively address it. I have had the pleasure of working for four outstanding Police Chiefs, Chief Samarra, Chief Baker, Chief Cook and Chief Brown, and all have mentored me into who I am today. This is not one man's problem. All of us share a burden to address it.

Lieutenant Vince Jones (Retired)

Alexandria Police Department