ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The new police chief in Alexandria hopes to tackle the issue of staffing shortages as one of his main priorities.
Chief Don Hayes was promoted to the position after serving as acting chief since June. The D.C. native has been with the department for 41 years and took over the role from Chief Michael Brown, who retired in 2021.
"It's kind of like they allowed me to ride the bike with training wheels on," Hayes told WUSA9 in a sit-down interview since his appointment. "Now, I get to take the training wheels off."
Although he is nearing retirement, Hayes said there is more room for changes. However, like many other jurisdictions, the department is still understaffed. The city budget approved $68 million for the department, much of which is geared towards salaries. The city is enhancing efforts to increase staffing and add more resources like body cameras, but Hayes stressed the lack of qualified applicants.
To him retaining and obtaining new officers starts with leadership.
"If we can convince our officers that this is a great agency to be and work around in the community, they'll be our best marketing tool because they'll tell people like them why they should do this job," Hayes said.
Hayes does not see himself as a typical chief but one who is more "participatory." The department has improved community policing over the years to gain trust, but Hayes wants more engagement from the police force and organizations to better serve juveniles and offer activities that can help steer them from trouble.
Overall, juvenile crimes have not been the biggest issue in Alexandria compared to other cities in the DMV. However, Hayes is noticing more assaults or fights involving teenagers.
While the number of violent crimes remained steady in the city, overall crime has increased by 8%, mainly because of car thefts and burglaries.
The city recently warned residents about fake Percocet laced with fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid claiming the lives of many people across the country.
The uptick in drug overdose cases because of fentanyl accompanies more drug seizures in the city.
"They're coming from everywhere, and the accessibility to these drugs are a big problem," Hayes said.
The department coordinates drug stings with the help of shipment companies. Once the team is notified of a possible drug package, a K9 team sniffs out the shipment before it is sent to the receiver.