Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Residents in one Ballston high-rise complained recently about a rise in petty crimes (bicycle theft in the parking garage among others). Alerts to the police, some bemoaned, were met with a resigned response to the effect the police currently lack the time to prioritize low-level investigations.


Speculation soon turned, as it has in online discussions on Nextdoor, as to whether the “restorative justice” approach of Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has become so lenient that criminals feel emboldened.


With crimes such as carjackings and aggravated assaults rising regionwide in this pandemic climate, some Nextdoor commenters recently brought her into the discussion (Nextdoor moderators removed the politicized entries).


Dehghani-Tafti also made news last month during a visit by newly installed conservative state Attorney General Jason Miyares. He blames a perceived crime surge on several elected liberal prosecutors pursuing reforms while he promotes a political fund-raising group called the Protecting Americans Action Fund. She tweeted that Arlington and Fairfax have “the “lowest crime rates of any large jurisdictions in Virginia and [the] country.”


I asked her directly about any change in police priorities. “I have never requested nor indicated that the police should not investigate any crime,” she said via email. “ACPD sets its own priorities on how it allocates police resources; the commonwealth’s attorney controls neither which crimes the police investigate, nor which ones it solves. The CA office has been supportive of criminal investigations.”


The prosecutor rejected “rumors” that her office is not holding arrestees accountable when evidence supports charges. And “after two years of community planning and building, only in the last 30 days did we launch the pilot restorative justice program for people to be held accountable to those they harm in a way that promotes healing. Restorative justice comes into play only after a person is apprehended and either the Court Services Unit or the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office makes a referral,” she said. “Currently, if no arrest is made, no restorative justice can take place.” That program stressing healing, she added, has “shown extraordinary success where used.”


As for police and their current priorities, Chief Andy Penn on March 29 released a statement explaining. With 86 unfilled trained positions, Arlington’s department, “like most law enforcement agencies, has experienced a significant reduction in our workforce due to attrition, retirements and officers seeking other opportunities,” I was told by communications manager Ashley Savage. “While our department’s commitment to providing professional law enforcement services and to working collaboratively with our community to support public safety remains unwavering, this reduction in officers will change the way we deliver services to the community.”


Bottom line is that reduced officer-power means targeting crimes that are most serious and solvable. That allows less time to confront such threats as vandalism, graffiti, credit card fraud and harassing phone calls. “Officers will continue responding to in-progress crimes and emergency calls for service where there is a threat to life, health or property,” the department said. But there will be less time for follow-up on petty crimes, and police will be “shifting late reports of applicable non-emergency criminal activity to the online reporting system or telephone reporting in lieu of an in-person officer response. This is a change first initiated during the pandemic and will continue to ensure the best use of available resources.”


Toll Brothers has chosen a name for the luxury subdivision it is building on the site of the historic Febrey-Lothrop House, demolished one year ago. The winner? The Grove at Dominion Hills.


The company was considering suggestions to name the new streets its 40 new homes will require off McKinley Rd. and Wilson Blvd. for the former landowners Febrey and Rouse. But on learning of Arlington’s street grid (new streets would have to be three-syllable “M’s” and N. 9th St.), the firm opted not to seek an exception from the county board, I’m told by Greg Leygraaf, vice president for land development, Virginia.


The county Historic Preservation Program, meanwhile, is hoping to install a historic plaque nearby.