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Arlington board chair irked by catch-and-release crime policy

Revolving door 'needs to stop,' Garvey says at meeting with Civic Federation
Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey

Arlington’s new-for-2024 County Board chairman used a gathering with a civic group to talk some smack, albeit somewhat indirectly, about the behavior of the county’s commonwealth’s attorney.

Board chair Libby Garvey didn’t go for the jugular, but in a Jan. 2 roundtable between County Board members and the Arlington County Civic Federation, managed to make her point: The county’s relatively recent catch-and-release approach to crime and punishment, she said, must end.

“There are instances where police do arrest folks and they end up back on the street pretty quickly and commit crimes again – and that needs to stop,” said Garvey, who earlier that day had been tapped by her County Board colleagues to chair the body for 2024.

Garvey made clear that the five-member County Board had no statutory authority to instruct prosecutor Parisa Dehghani-Tafti on how to run her office – “we cannot tell the commonwealth’s attorney what to do” – but hinted that there was more to come on the issue.

“If that continues,” she said of lather-rinse-repeat cycle of crime and non-prosecution, ”you probably will begin to hear more about it.”

(Despite direct lack of oversight powers, the County Board does control some of the purse strings when it comes to the prosecutor’s office, which could make for an interesting upcoming budget season.)

Garvey has never been a big fan of Dehghani-Tafti, who in 2019 benefited from enormous amounts of outside campaign cash from left-wing groups in her successful quest to defeat two-term Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos. A subsequent bid to oust Dehghani-Tafti in the 2023 Democratic primary fell flat.

Arlington County Board members in December came under hostile fire from the public after a series of incidents, including two shootings, in the county’s Green Valley neighborhood.

“This is a wake-up call,” County Board member Takis Karantonis said at the Jan. 2 forum with the Civic Federation.

Karantonis estimated that 90 percent of Arlington is generally safe, but “there are focal points where we need to do more.”

In the wake of the Green Valley shootings, County Manager Mark Schwartz and Police Chief Andy Penn directed that more on-the-ground resources be deployed. That left Karantonis wondering why those resources hadn’t been there all along.

“Community policing has been slacking off a little bit over the past few years,” he said, pointing to officer-staffing shortfalls as one explanation, if not necessarily an excuse.

Whether crime is up or down depends on who is parsing the data, but for November, the Arlington County Police Department reported 1,360 total incidents, up from 1,270 the same month in 2022 and from 1,180 from November 2021. Simple assaults, larcenies and motor-vehicle thefts showed statistically significant upticks.