Vienna’s police department is overfunded


Leo Moskowitz, Staff Writer

On Feb 22, a fatal shooting of an unarmed black man took place in Tysons Corner. The perpetrator? The Fairfax County police. The victim, a 37-year-old father named Timothy Johnson, had only shoplifted a pair of sunglasses when two officers chased him into the woods, subsequently gunning him down. Because of this, the topic of police reform has resurfaced. Criticism of the Vienna Police Department (VPD) might be warranted considering their unusually high budget in contrast to the town’s relatively low crime rates. According to its police scorecard, Vienna’s police force is funded more than 93% of all other United States police departments per capita. Despite this, (albeit partially because of it) Vienna is one of the safest towns in the state, meaning its high budget may be taking an unnecessary toll on taxpayers. This potential issue is widely unknown and efforts to push back have been minimal.

Last year, the VPD received an additional $300,000 for the construction of their new department, totaling $14 million for the whole project. Compared to their 2022-23 budget of $7 million, this likely puts some strain on the city’s finances as the department only recently began construction in early 2021. Interestingly, this was around the time when the police reform movement was at a peak, yet there was little coverage and public response to the decision. In early 2022, A levy generating $300,000 per year was imposed on Vienna taxpayers mainly to support officer salaries. This year’s budget had an increase of around $250,000 from the previous year, but next year’s budget will have a substantially smaller increase at just $24,000. Still, the number is large considering that in 2021 there was a low total of 120 arrests, meaning that one person was arrested every three days. After request for comment on the topic of police overfunding, the mayor of Vienna, Linda Colbert, says she believes the force’s funding is justified because the town council and other Vienna citizens feel that the budget ensures the town’s spot as one of the safest places to live in Virginia.

“There are many reasons people move to Vienna and safety is at the top of the list,” Mayor Colbert said. “As mayor, I converse with residents regularly and the Chief and I hold a quarterly event named ‘Mayor and Chief at Your Service’ to engage with residents and listen to their concerns. Vienna’s residents are always concerned about safety and maintaining order.  Having a well-trained and fully-staffed police force allows Vienna to ensure both of these.” So while some residents may believe that there is an overfunding issue, Vienna’s safety and well funded police department are certainly enticing factors to many others.vpdgraph

Over the past few years, a lot of new programs have been introduced in Northern Virginia police departments, including body cameras, vehicle cameras, upgraded radios, electronic ticketing systems and others. Out of Fairfax police department’s $190 million budget last year, $1.7 million went towards implementation of body worn cameras which displays just how much is needed for the new technology. After observing the funds dedicated to the implementation of new initiatives for several departments, general training of police officers seems to cost the most. Overall, the sheer amount of programs diminishes the level of effort spent towards each one, consequently costing the city extra money. It would likely be more effective to focus on the most needed initiatives while saving more optional ones for a later date.

With little protest from the community, Vienna’s police expenditures potentially stay unnecessarily high. While it is easy to assume that the low crime rate is a result of high funding, correlation does not always equal causation. Despite this, there is no doubt that Vienna’s police force ensures safety and order in the community. But with better budget management, the department can likely save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and still be just as effective.