Ending the Military Influence in Local Policing

Occasionally in this business (politics) there’s a moment when the usual voices of Left and Right actually arrive at the same point and form a voice of blissful convergence.

I saw that happen a few weeks ago when Delegate Rich Anderson (R-Woodbridge) and myself joined the ACLU and Sorenson Institute in Alexandria for a discussion which focused (small picture) on “license plate readers,” and (big picture) on the need to limit the use of technology in law enforcement, where it is indiscriminately collecting information.

The latest Left-Right convergence is beginning to take shape.  Specifically, it focuses on the collection of high-powered military technology by local police and Sheriffs.  At its most absurd, we’re talking about the proliferation of squad-sized armored personnel carriers in rural counties.  At a more granular level, it involves Kevlar vests and 7.62 mm rifles being distributed to ordinary police.

As Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) pointed out, there is a disconnect here.  These military items were manufactured to wage war on a hostile army or population.  There is no war going on in the USA.  There is no reason to point these weapons at a U.S. population, especially a peaceful gathering.

The whole purpose of local policing is to build trust in a local community, so that residents can have faith in making reports to officers and counting on them to keep the peace.  Showing up to a domestic disturbance with an AR-15 is not helping the situation.

Back in February 2012, I made a similar protest when there were sharpshooters on the roof of the Governor’s mansion as it was surrounded by peaceful protesters against the “ultrasound” bill.  I thought that was absurd and overkill.  It’s just as absurd to face a protest march in Ferguson, Missouri, with similar hardware.

Now I realize that some of these items are DOD surplus which have been “given” to local police.  Other items were specifically earmarked under the U.S. Patriot Act (which continues to be a legislative disaster that needs to be terminated).  Either way, they’re not necessary — and they give the exact wrong impression to civilians.

I say all this with 100% confidence in the professionalism and restraint of the Fairfax County and Fairfax City Police Departments, with which I’m pretty familiar.  You won’t see an armored car rolling down our Main Street anytime soon.

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Get your Kicks on Expanded I-66

Last month, I attended a public outreach session sponsored by Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne and specifically focused on the I-66 Corridor.

The Commonwealth began work on I-66 in the mid-Sixties and completed it in the early Eighties.  Today, it shoots like an arrow from the Shenandoah Valley, over Thoroughfare Gap, across Prince William (dipping south to avoid the Manassas Battlefield) and Fairfax, curls around Falls Church, and cuts through the heart of Arlington before terminating at the Roosevelt Bridge.

Despite it central nature in northern Virginia, it has been a forgotten stepchild over the past ten years while most the funding and attention has gone to the Silver Line or Beltway projects such as “the Mixing Bowl” or “the HOT Lanes.”

Meanwhile, the use of I-66 has continued to increase as communities expand geometrically, if not exponentially, in exurbs like Centreville, Gainesville and Haymarket.  Today, nearly every weekday will find traffic backed up from Arlington to Rte. 15, which is about a thirty-mile stretch.  And the weekends are no better. East of the intersection with 234 in Manassas, the highway is rated “F” for congestion.

The highway has morphed from northern Virginia’s Main Street to its parking lot.

For years, we have struggled with means to increase I-66′s capacity.  In 1999, when I was a newly minted member of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, we considered an “MIS” plan for I-66 which included the expansion of the Orange Line and adding four additional driving lanes.  That concept went up in smoke in the 2001-2002 recession.

When the economy finally recovered, all attention was focused on “Rail to Dulles,” which seemed to suck up all the discretionary transportation funding for northern Virginia.   The I-66 corridor was placed on the back burner.

Towards the tail end of the McDonnell administration (and after multiple requests from folks like myself, Delegate LeMunyon and Supervisor Pat Herrity), the I-66 corridor was put back out for discussion.  After years of inertia, an Environmental Impact Study was finally completed in November 2013 which set the stage for last month’s press event.

The EIS proposal is not revolutionary.  Basically, it envisions two additional express lanes, using “HOT lane” technology, along with a transit option (likely Bus Rapid Transit) on those dedicated lanes. New “park and ride” lots in Prince William and western Fairfax are planned.  There is still no decision to widen the four lanes going directly through Arlington — so a major bottleneck will remain.

VDOT has issued an “Request for Interest” to assess interest from private partners to build the additional lanes and improvements.  So far, nineteen have responded.  Presumably, their investment will be repaid by any toll revenue or fare box revenue from BRT.  In addition, a public investment of $1-2 billion is assumed.

The three questions from my point of view are as follows:

1.  How soon can the ideas be implemented?

2.  How much land will need to be acquired?

3.  How much will it increase capacity and lessen congestion?

The #2 question is of unique interest to me.  I represent the north and south sides of I-66 from Dunn Loring through Fairfax City/Vienna.  Then I represent the north side of the highway all the way to Centreville.  So any additional right of way acquisition could impact hundreds of homeowners in the 34th Senate District.

Either way, it’s critical to get the ball rolling on I-66.

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Knocking Doors in the “New River City”

I’m reporting back from a couple days down south, actually southwest.

On Friday morning, my daughter Mary Walton and I hit I-81, turned the car south, and headed to Pulaski County, where we stopped at the campaign office of Mike Hymes, Democratic candidate for State Senate in the 38th Senate district of Virginia.

Mike is a third-generation coal miner who grew up in the coal camps of Tazewell County.  Currently, he is the human resources director for James River Coal Company, which operates mining sites around the southeast.  In addition, he serves on the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors.

After getting our walking assignments, Mary Walton and I crossed the New River (which is the world’s oldest river) into the independent city of Radford.  We spent the rest of Friday knocking on doors in Radford, which is a charming little city that rises along the banks of the New River.

Okay, I now understand why the Radford University teams are called “the Highlanders.”  This town had some serious hills.  I mean serious hills.  (I’ll never complain about Country Club Hills in Fairfax City again).  It’s like San Francisco without the … well never mind.

Anyway, Mary Walton and I walked up and down several steep driveways before we finally quit — and began driving from house to house.

Each house had a different story.  I met a math teacher with forty years in the public school system.  A woman owning a hemp shop (okay, maybe this is like San Fran!)  A number of students and a lot of retirees.

We climbed to the top of one hill, going straight up a thin strip of pavement.  I knocked on the door and no one answered, although I saw a car in the driveway.  Walking around the side, I met the occupant — who was 92 years old and living alone.

Turns out he was a World War II veteran with the 4th Marine Division, who had been hit by Japanese machine gun fire on Saipan but survived.  He’d lived on top of that hill, with a view overlooking the New River, for 45 years.

The next morning, we regrouped at the campaign headquarters, where we met Mike Hymes himself.  We also heard from Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, there to support Mike and the Democrats’ chance to take back the Senate majority.

There was a crowd of local Democrats, including the Board Chairman for Pulaski County, as well as volunteers from Fairfax including Senator Dave Marsden and his wife Julia, Tom Greeson and Catherine Read (who’s from Radford), Frank Blechman, and my Chief of Staff Kathy Neilson and her husband Bruce.

Mike gave up the update on the campaign and sent us back out to canvass.  Unfortunately, it had been raining all weekend – and then it really started falling on Saturday.  MW and I dashed from house to house until we were thoroughly soaked.  We completed the route except for one street, which apparently doesn’t exist.   Or so we think.

The voters we spoke with were all familiar with the Senate race.  It’s no secret that the Republicans are going “all in” to take a southwest seat which had been Democratic for generations.  Their strategy, per the TV commercials I saw, is simply to link Hymes to President Obama, regardless of the issues or facts.

We’ll see how that works.  Regardless, we had a good time and met some really good people in Radford and Pulaski.  Election day is Tuesday, August 19.

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