Interesting report – and a very encouraging one at that – from Arlington/Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. As you read this – including ZERO homicides in Arlington County in 2021 and the jail population at historic lows – compare/contrast it to the repeated, over-the-top, false claims by Republicans like soon-to-be AG Jason Miayres about progressive prosecutors supposedly being “soft on crime,” etc.
The final Justice Digest from 2021 is out – and this year we ended with Zero Homicides: but that’s not the most important part of our year in review. In fact – that’s just the kind of language that takes nuance out of conversations about crime and safety.
A few significant accomplishments: we did not certify a single child as an adult; the behavioral health docket allows individuals experiencing mental health crises to obtain treatment without incurring a criminal record; the jail population continues to be at historic lows; we formed and staffed a conviction integrity unit; and our office received the maximum grant from the Department of Justice to run our restorative justice program. We continued not asking for cash bail and not engaging in peremptory strikes of prospective jurors.
At the same time, we secured indictments and convictions in every serious case we pursued, including convictions in two serial rape cases (one of which was a cold case), convictions in three child sex abuse cases, guilty pleas in three homicide cases, with two dating back from 2018, and indictments in a 23-year-old cold case homicide.
In 2021, a Pentagon officer was killed, at the Pentagon, in the line of duty along with his assailant. As a federal case, the investigation and prosecution of the incident did not fall within the jurisdiction of the ACPD and our office. As for our jurisdiction, in Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, we recorded zero homicides, as compared to five in 2020, two in 2019, and four in 2018.
BUT. If I touted about the drop in homicide in the same misleading manner as any rise in crime is usually reported, this is the point at which I would do two things:
1. I’d describe the drop as a percentage instead of raw numbers (Homicides dropped by 100%!!) because when numbers are low, describing changes as a percentage tends to make any increase or decrease appear meaningful. By contrast, when raw numbers are high, describing changes as a raw number tends to make the increase or decrease appear significant; and
2. Again. using the typical narrative, I’d tout the drop in homicide as a direct result of my policies.
But reasonable people – from all points of the political spectrum – understand there are many factors that shape increases and decreases in crime and that working to make the system fair is key to making us all safe. And no one does this alone. So, here are some folks who deserve credit for working to keep us safe in Arlington and Falls Church:
The County Board and the County Manager for the resources they’ve allocated to social services, knowing that such social services help reduce crime;
The Department of Human Services for delivering these services and saving people’s lives and keeping families together and to the Court Services Unit for their proactive work in helping at risk kids and their commitment to diversion programs; The School Board, school administrators, and our teachers for keeping kids out of the criminal justice system in the midst of a pandemic that continues to place enormous stress on so many families; ACPD, Falls Church Police Department, and other partner law enforcement agencies for their commitment to de-escalating and engaging in community policing, and solving serious crimes through rigorous detective work; Our local delegation in the General Assembly for their extraordinary courage in passing criminal reform legislation; Our faith community and community activists for their unsung work behind the scenes to build a safe and beloved community; the Sheriff’s Office for doing the hard job of working to reduce our jail population and secure the courthouse; The private defense bar for their advocacy, and the Public Defender and court-appointed counsel for being the first, last, and best champion to stand in the breach on behalf of those who would otherwise be alone against the power of the state; a nd to the staff (support and attorneys) in our office, from whom, day in and day out, I demand more than anyone has the right to ask and who deliver more than anyone has the right to expect.
I hope you and your family had a safe and happy end-of-the year and that the new year brings you peace and love.