Vienna officials shared the plan for addressing racial inequities in the town, especially involving policing, following a petition for officials to reexamine its project for a new police station.
The petition, which was started by 23 James Madison High School alumni, urges town officials to halt work on the new station until there are more community conversations and a commission report on racial justice and policing in the town. Currently, the petition has more than 1,500 signatures.
Mayor Linda Colbert read a statement shortly after the Town Council meeting began last night, saying that the town agrees with the “underlying spirit” of the petition but plans to continue work on the $17 million project.
“While we believe that a conversation on racial injustice must go forward, we do not believe it would serve the ultimate goal of racial equality to delay the process of building a new police station,” Colbert said.
Colbert said that delaying the police station project would jeopardize the safety and security of residents, listing the problems of the current station from too small locker rooms for female officers and lack of storage for evidence.
“The current building is unsafe,” Colbert said as a slideshow showed photos of the facility. “The current building is not community friendly because there is not a private lobby or a space in which a resident can file a complaint and there is no community room to hold interactions with town residents.”
Colbert added the current “substandard” police station could detract the town’s ability to hire the best police candidates and said that the town has already borrowed funds at a low interest rate for the project, which will be paid for with meals taxes.
“We are proud of the Vienna Police Department,” Colbert said. “We have a dedicated and committed group of officers who protect our citizens every day. They are community-minded and have a very positive reputation among residents.”
Colbert outlined steps the town plans to take, including an already-completed review by the police chief of the department’s use of policies, two upcoming events with Town Manager Mercury Payton, and mailings about the police department’s use of force policies, which ban chokeholds.
Colbert added that she signed the Obama Foundation’s Commit to Action — also known as the mayor’s pledge — to review use of force policies, engage diverse input in the review, report the findings and reform the policies.
Reva Joshi, one of the locals behind the effort to reevaluate the police station, thanked the Town Council last night for the response, but said it does not address the petition’s calls for a report of the use of force policies from a commission made up of diverse community members.
“I don’t think I need to point out here that [the police chief] will be extremely biased towards his own department,” Joshi said.
Joshi said that the petition is not against upgrading the police station — instead, it questions the “unnecessary” additions like a new shooting range and community spaces that add to the $17 million price tag.
Joshi said that she disagrees with calls to continue the police station because of the planning that has already happened. “Also, it seems that the only criticism of our group’s efforts is that we are just a bunch of young people who are frustrated and just want to see something happen,” she said.