Purcellville Policing Group Appoints Officers, Discusses 20th Street Speeding

The nine-member group assembled to help the Purcellville Town Council guide the town’s police force met for the first time Monday to elect officers, set a meeting schedule and discuss speeding and a newly formed regional police support team.

The Town Council formed the Community Policing Advisory Committee in October. According to the ordinance to create the group, the committee should enhance communication between police and residents, encourage police to treat all residents equally and fairly, recognize police for good work, raise awareness of police injustice and improve public trust of police.

Serving on the committee are Christopher Baltimore, Kirk Balthazar, Larry Simms, Thomas Christie, Elizabeth Ford, Leonard Markland, Caleb Stought, David Milam and Payton Arnett. Vice Mayor Mary Jane Williams serves as the Town Council liaison to the committee.

On Monday, those committee members voted to appoint Baltimore as chairman, and Ford as vice chairwoman. Members also agreed to meet the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m. for at least the first three months of 2021. The town ordinance requires only that the panel meet quarterly.

During the meeting, Police Chief Cynthia McAlister briefed committee members on a request by Simms and 37 other residents living along 20th Street near Fireman’s Field to install a speed camera to photograph vehicles travelling at least 10 mph above the road’s posted speed limit. The petition claimed motorists frequently disregard the 25 mph speed limit there.

Deputy Police Chief Dave Dailey said that he conducted a speed study on the road from Dec. 21 through Jan. 3. The department counted 349 cars traveling northbound on 20th Street that reached an enforceable speed—a speed above 35 mph—while 262 cars traveling southbound reached those speeds. Dailey said peak hours for traffic are typically from 12-1 p.m. and 3-4 p.m., at least at the moment amid the pandemic changing residents’ work schedules and schools being closed. The study found that more than 95% of motorist were in compliance with the speed limits.

Simms said he has not seen a police officer pull anyone over for speeding along 20th Street in the last 15 years.

The residents signed a petition and sent it to Mayor Kwasi Fraser. The petition asserted that a speed camera would reduce the number of crashes in the area and would reduce the need for town police officers to monitor the area as much.

But, as McAlister explained, a newly enacted Virginia law allows for speed cameras to be installed only in highway work zones and school crossing zones. The area in question along 20th street meets neither of those requirements.

Already, the town has installed blinking 25 mph signs and a “slow pedestrian area” sign along the road to slow traffic, and McAlister said the department would continue to work with residents to see what can be done to deter speeders in that area, such as increasing the frequency of targeted enforcement there.

“We can make that happen,” she said.

Daily also suggested the town look into traffic calming options, such as painting lines along the parking areas on the wide road to visually narrow the travel way.

McAlister also briefed the committee on the formation of the Critical Incident Response Team, which multiple Northern Virginia police chiefs recently developed to provide member agencies with resources to investigate criminal incidents involving officers—especially incidents with officer-involved shootings.

McAlister said the team would provide more “unbiased, transparent” insight in such criminal investigations.

The Town Council was expected to vote to authorize the town to join the team at its meeting on Tuesday.

The committee also asked McAlister whether body-worn cameras were a worthwhile investment for the town’s police force. McAlister said “it’s a tough question” to answer because the technology is so expensive.

“It’s a lot of money,” she said, telling the committee that one proposal she is reviewing would cost more than $40,000 per year for five years.

McAlister also noted that her department is down eight sworn officers, and asked committee members to send candidates her way. While she generally has targeted the hiring of certified officers who have already completed the long training requirements and can have an immediate impact, McAlister said any interested candidate would be considered.

“We would love a more diverse workforce and we strive for that,” she said.

The committee will next meet Feb. 1.

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