ALEXANDRIA, VA- Michael Brown has spent nearly his entire life making sure that people are safe. It was only a few months after he assumed command, though, that decades of law enforcement experience came to a head on June 14, 2017, shortly after he was named the Chief of the Alexandria Police Department. That day, an event occurred that should never happen in Alexandria – the mass shooting at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park, where high-ranking members of Congress were practicing for the following day’s Congressional Baseball Game. Brown was at work when he got the call and was on the scene in 15 minutes.
“We in the law enforcement and fire business train for those kinds of events, hoping that they never happen,” Brown told The Zebra. “This is a very personalized community. We went door-to-door to make sure people were calm and understood what happened. We were especially worried about the kids. One young man was scared about going to school the next day, and we talked to him about that, and helping to turn him around meant a lot to me.”
After the shooting, Brown spoke to the press in his first on-camera briefing. He was flanked by Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and Fire Chief Robert Dubé – a trio of strength representing Alexandria’s finest law enforcement and fire safety personnel.
“I was so proud of the first responders and the officers, who were doing what they were supposed to do, and then as I got briefed about how the officers and the Capitol Police responded, I was in awe, because they did what they were supposed to do. They didn’t waiver and their training reflected that,” Brown said. “We had to come together for this. We collectively came up with an idea to help restore what we could.”
The APD is currently experiencing a staffing overflow, Brown said, since the city council gave the department overtime authority several years ago, and since that time all staff vacancies have been filled and then some.
“We have a bunch who are going in to the next academy, so we can plan for attrition, so we won’t be in an understaffed situation, which we were three or four years ago,” Brown said. “City Hall handles all compensation. Last year, the city gave all personnel a 6.22 percent raise, which was the result of the workings of the Public Safety Working Group and their recommendations to the city manager, and we’re going to be doing another comparison with the cops, because this put us in a good position, but the city manager has been trying to reassess that about every other year so that we can keep up. He’s made the commitment that it’s in the best interest of the city to maintain this investment in our police officers to be competitive with neighboring jurisdictions.”
While the latest crime stats have not been released, Brown said that preliminary figures indicate a decrease in part 1 crime, which is made up of more serious incidents, like murder, rape, aggravated assault and burglary. There is no specific hotspot of crime in the city, Brown said. Instead, it’s pretty evenly distributed.
“Overall this has been a good year for Alexandria, especially when compared to other jurisdictions in the area,” he said.
Brown, 63, began his career in the California Highway Patrol as a police officer in Los Angeles in 1977, and later served as state commissioner from 2004 to 2008, overseeing nearly 8,000 personnel in more than 100 field offices and handling a budget of $1.8 billion. He later served as California’s deputy secretary for public safety and then as the director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Shortly after being hired as chief in Alexandria, Brown made a major change in the structure of the department, reorganizing it into three – and later two – divisions. The department is now organized into an administrative division and operations division, the latter of which is now being led by Captain Don Hayes, a 38-year APD veteran who will act in a new capacity as the assistant chief of police for operations. The administrative position will be led by a civilian with Human Resources expertise.
“The whole purpose behind this reorganization was to develop opportunities for the various functions to interact,” Brown said. “There were situations where people were siloed and were not interacting, and not being dealt with. We made those changes and it’s just been a year, and we’ve made some additional changes, like moving investigations into patrol to better improve communications and investigation operations beyond just the transfer of cases.
Brown said that he is looking forward to the establishment of the Commonwealth Attorney’s drug court, which will not prosecute drug addicts who devote themselves to beating their addictions.
“There are certain groups of offenders who will not have their problem solved by the city jail,” Brown said. “This may be a vehicle that changes their lives so that we don’t have to see them again, and they’re not on the other end of a 9-11 call. So, any opportunity that we have to do that, I am all for it. Let’s start small. I think they’re going to work with t small caseload of about five or six people to get an idea of the workload. I’ve already committed to the court and the Commonwealth Attorney that we are willing to support that, because it is in the best interests of the city. Maybe we can turn some lives around in the process.”
Brown, who lives in the city with his wife, said that he has no plans to retire.
“All in all, I am very blessed with this organization, and I plan to be here as long as possible.”