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Friday, February 3, 2023
Editor’s NotebookEditor’s Notebook: Last one to leave, turn out the lights

Editor’s Notebook: Last one to leave, turn out the lights

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We’ll have an update this week on the crisis – oops, County Manager Mark Schwartz says it is not a crisis (yet) – in Arlington police staffing.

As a Sun Gazette editorial noted more than a year ago – when the crap-on-police movement was in full bloom among the left – if police continue to bear the brunt of too often misapplied criticism of the many based on the actions of a few, officers are going to vote with their feet and depart. As they now are doing in Arlington and elsewhere, whether at the start of their careers, in the twilight or somewhere in between.

And at the local level just as nationally, who can blame them:

• Northern Virginia voters, almost without giving it a second thought, installed prosecutors who seem to hold the view that criminals are victims, the actual victims are nuisances, and police are to be viewed as suspect in everything they do. That has had a devastating impact on police morale.

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• Other elected officials are speaking out of both sides of their mouths on the issue of police and policing, depending on the audience they are addressing at any given moment. There is no consistent messaging, and certainly no consistent message that “we’ve got your back.”

• As for top brass within police departments, we’d wager that most of the rank-and-file are of the opinion that, if something happens that requires top leaders in the department to defend them, it’s even money that support will not be forthcoming. Too many of the top cops of Northern Virginia seem either cowed by, or controlled by, elected officials.

(As an aside, the newish Arlington police chief, Andy Penn, failed to impress during the County Board discussion of this topic recently. He seemed too timid to dominate the room – and having police professionals unafraid to speak up boldly is exactly what communities need from their police chiefs at the moment. Hopefully we will see some improvement in his public persona going forward.)

As we also noted in editorials a year ago, given the rapid rate of people departing the ranks and the tough sledding in finding people to replace them, all options to address the matter are unpalatable:

• Localities can lower their standards to find recruits. The District of Columbia tried that two decades ago during a similar challenge in getting new officers, and it turned out some of those they hired ended up running crime syndicates (or abetting those who did) in and out of their work hours.

• Localities can let the positions go unfilled and tell the community to “suck it up” and live with lower responsiveness. This is essentially the short-term plan in Arlington, if we heard Penn correctly, although he used more benign verbiage to try and soften the blow.

• Or localities can try to make it through by throwing money at the problem, something that will further divide the local-government workforce (rightly or wrongly, many outside the public-safety departments already think those in them are get too much of the pie) and will lead to ever spiraling costs to be passed on taxpayers.

Many of the matters that have gotten us to where we are today can be attributed to national events outside local control, that is true. But if local leaders believe they bear no culpability, they’re simply not living in reality.

There’s a lot of fence-mending to do, or else the not-yet-quite-a-crisis (in the words of Schwartz) will take on the makings a major problem, indeed.

– Scott McCaffrey

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