Resident hosts virtual conversation with Arlington County police chief, deputy chief

Virginia

Yolande Kwinana grilled Chief Jay Farr and Deputy Chief Andy Penn with questions about department policy and training.

ARLINGTON, Va. (WDVM) — Arlington resident Yolande Kwinana is co-hosting a protest with the NAACP on Saturday morning. 27 police officers with the Arlington County Police Department have agreed to walk up front with her; a result of her effort to spark conversations with the county’s police about training and police brutality. 

On Thursday, Kwinana invited police Chief Jay Farr and Deputy Chief Andy Penn to a virtual conversation over Facebook live. She grilled them with questions submitted to her by verified Arlington residents and hundreds weighed in in the comments. 

“I thought the interview was good,” Kwinana said. “There could’ve been some clearer answers, but it went well.” 

Farr wasn’t available for comment Friday, but during Thursday’s meeting he said the police department strongly believes George Floyd’s murder could have been prevented. “There’s no one on this police department that could look at the video and what happened in the last week and in no way shape or form see anything but a murder,” he said. “It was a murder of a man who was not resisting, who was not doing anything, and there was ample opportunity to make things right in that case.”

“First of all, I’ve been so proud of the diversity of the protests – just a variety of people coming to fight for this,” Kwinana said. “But I think the mood is definitely ‘tired’ and ‘angry.’ Tired of this continuing to happen, tired of excuses from police on why things can’t change, tired of how they’re treating protesters right now and just angry at the death of George Floyd and the callousness of everything.”

Kwinana says the police department has been helpful during protests; offering snacks and water. Many of the people she’s spoken with have said they’ve had “good interactions” with police in the county, but Kwinana says it depends on who you ask. 

“Someone on potentially the side that I live on and further into Northern Virginia might say, ‘I have regular conversations with police. Some of them are my best friends and they come to my house.’ But someone on the other side of Arlington may say something completely different.” 

She says dialogues like this one are important for two reasons: “You’ll see videos in contrast to a white person, who’s actually holding a gun, not getting arrested, not getting killed, not even getting tazed, really; versus a black person who’s completely unarmed. It kind of sends the message that black people are this dangerous people that has to be killed,” Kwinana said. “There is no other choice but to kill them in the moment when they’re standing up for their rights. So I think it’s just important to have those dialogues but an openness from police departments to actually change the things that are hurting the community.” Kwinana says she’s still working on being able to express her frustrations with police officers. “I don’t think that is something that I would be comfortable to do, not because of how necessarily Arlington police make me feel, but how I feel in general as being a black woman – black queer woman – and an immigrant.” 

Farr has been police chief for five years. He’s been a police officer for about 40. He says the police department has been making a conscious effort to form relationships with the community since 1997. He hopes to hold more group conversations, like Thursday’s, with other community members.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is now charged with second degree murder in the Floyd case, reportedly had multiple complaints filed against him. When asked how ACPD handles officer complaints, Farr said the department keeps a record of officer complaint history and will be investigated if there’s “any level of frequency.” If it’s an alleged criminal offense, the complaint will be submitted to the commonwealth’s attorney for independent review. All of the police department’s complaints and investigations are available for viewing on the department website. 

Chauvin was caught on camera holding Floyd down by the neck with his knee. Farr says the police department has banned chokeholds and strangleholds. An organization called Campaign Zero is advocating for eight policies to discourage police brutality, known as #8CantWait. The ban of chokeholds and strangleholds is one of them. 

Others include requiring de-escalation tactics. Farr and Penn says that’s the core of ACPD training both in the academy and in the field. 80 percent of the police department’s patrol section is CIT (crisis intervention training) certified. Campaign Zero also advocates for a warning shot before shooting (and exhausting all other means of warning before using a weapon). ACPD trains its officers to comply with this as long as it’s “feasible.” 

Penn says the police department needs to work on its “duty to intervene,” another Campaign Zero policy. “If somebody sees me do something wrong they have to report it to my supervisor. I just think we need to add some language in that you have to do that but if you’re seeing me doing something you’re also obligated to intervene and report it,” Penn said. The police department has also banned shooting at moving vehicles (when feasible). If an officer points a firearm at a suspect, it’s required that he or she report it. 

Kwinana had questions about the police department’s use of an independent review board. Farr admits the police department hasn’t spent a lot of time looking into it, but he says he’s interested in the Fairfax County Police Department’s model, in which citizen volunteers, with training, review cases after they’ve been investigated to determine what went well and what didn’t. 

After a brief trial, the county discontinued its use of body worn cameras. “Our officers are very much in favor of going to them because we are 100% confident it’s going to catch us doing the right thing,” Farr said. “It’s extremely expensive and the county board, after getting all the facts related to it last year, it was in our budget it was requested to move forward [but they] made the decision not to fund them this year.”

Farr says it cost the county $2.5 million over one year. “It’s the cost of the camera, it’s the cost of the data storage, it’s the cost of five additional full time employees who work in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office,” he said. 

On Monday evening, the U.S. Park Police called on some Arlington County police officers to aid them in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. The Park Police has been accused of using tear gas to clear crowds so President Donald Trump could take a photo outside of St. John’s Church. Once word got out, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey ordered them back. 

“If the only reason my officers had gone over there was to remove protesters just for the president to take the photo opp, we would not have sent them,” Farr said. “But any time we invoke mutual aid, whether we go there or they come here, I assign people to go work for that agency and while they’re working for that agency they’re under the command and control of that agency and its mission.” 

The police department is working to diversify its staff. Deputy Chief Penn reported that 10.6% of the police department is black. Out of the last 90 that were hired, 15.5% were black. “It’s not happening overnight but when I look down these categories I can see that we’re hiring people from diverse backgrounds at higher percentages than we currently sit at, which is the goal: that we will continue to keep these methods moving to hopefully continue to see these numbers increase,” said Penn.

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