In response to the nationwide conversation about police brutality, Manassas Police Department leaders signed a commitment to “21st Century Policing Principles” at a City Council meeting July 27, pledging to carry out comprehensive investigations of all use-of-force incidents and to follow a set of national guidelines put forth by police reform activists.
The principles include a commitment to “Eight Can’t Wait” measures, developed and pushed by activists as simple, immediate steps police departments can take to prevent unnecessary use of force by police.
The eight steps include banning chokeholds, de-escalation training, mandating verbal warning before using deadly force, restrictions on shooting at moving vehicles and more. The police department’s pledge also included a commitment to comprehensive reporting of incidents that involved the use of force or the threatened use of force.
“I felt that it was important that we get that message out to the public,” Police Chief Douglas Keen told InsideNoVa.
He said his department has already been implementing the principles, pointing to being among the 2% of departments nationwide accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which also helps to handle police misconduct complaints.
He also said that the department is committed to using the discussions around policing that have taken place in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis to hear what the community wants to see from its department.
But one issue that some residents have been vocal about, particularly in the heavily Hispanic Georgetown South neighborhood, is having more Spanish-language fluency in the department.
Keen said there’s an effort underway in the department to build more racial and ethnic diversity, and that the force already has twice the national average of women police officers. But he said it’s difficult to compete for highly-sought-after Spanish-speaking officers in a region like Northern Virginia.
“We have to find the best fit for us and attract them. Is this the type of policing they want to do? Community policing in a medium-sized agency? Or do you want to chase the salary and go to a much higher-paying agency, either federally or here in Northern Virginia,” Keen said. “It’s extremely competitive. It’s extremely different than when I first got into this job.”
At the same council meeting, the city also approved a Department of Justice COPS grant, which will partially fund two full-time officer positions working to prevent school truancy and the potential juvenile crime that results from it.
Keen has pledged that at least one of the two officers funded by the $250,000 grant will be fluent in Spanish and focus on Georgetown South.
According to the grant application, roughly one-third of robbery offenders between 2017 and 2019 were juveniles, and more than 300 violent incidents involving juvenile offenders took place in that time frame. Meanwhile, over 29% of public secondary school students were chronically absent during the 2017-2018 school year.
In speaking with InsideNoVa, Keen said he’s begun thinking about the end of his 33-year career in policing, and setting the department up for a future without him at the helm. He’s been leading the Manassas department for just over a decade, and didn’t say whether he had any concrete plans for retirement.
“I’m moving toward the end of my career, I’m 33 years in,” Keen said. “So it’s time to start thinking about the future and making sure that we as an agency… are committed to these principles.”