May 23, 2017 Published in Letters/Opinions

Opinion: Why Alexandria Needs A Police Data Transparency Ordinance

The Alexandria City Council would serve our community well by passing an ordinance ensuring that the police department’s data collection is being accomplished for all arrests as well as for traffic stops, frisks, citations, searches, and other types of detentions. This ordinance would make such data open and accessible to the public, provide a valuable tool for analyzing how the data relates to the functioning of our city and treatment of our residents, and it would show that the police department is willing to be accountable to the community. These actions on the part of the police department would foster trust in the community, therefore making officers more effective in their policing activities in Alexandria.

The population of our city is made up of approximately 40 percent African American and Latino residents. Nationally, it has been shown that these minorities have been stopped by police in disproportionate numbers to those of white individuals. In the state of Virginia, for example, an ACLU study found that although white and black citizens use marijuana at similar rates, blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for possession. Are these discriminatory policing practices being played out in the city of Alexandria? Or is the Alexandria Police Department different from its counterparts in Virginia and other areas of the country? We don’t know the answers to these questions because we don’t have the data on stops and arrests.

The practice of data collection should be mandatory and not voluntary; an ordinance to that effect, promulgated by the City Council, would make sure that the police department complies with the data transparency mandate in the long term. It would also increase the understanding of the police, the City Council, and Alexandria’s community of the data and how it relates to the city, identify areas of concern, and create awareness in the city about policing policy and how citizens can work effectively with the Alexandria Police Department. This data transparency ordinance initiative is spearheaded by the community organizations Tenants and Workers United and NAACP-Alexandria, and Grassroots Alexandria fully supports it.

Police data transparency is a crucial aspect of police-community relations. It increases police accountability and the community’s trust in the police. Alexandria residents, especially those who identify as part of ethnic and racial minorities, should rightfully have the security of knowing that if their friends and relatives are stopped by police, the system will treat them fairly. Data collected on stops, frisks, and the like are the first step in this path to accountable and non-discriminatory policing.

Zeina Azzam
Leader, Grassroots Alexandria Vulnerable Communities Team

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