Arlington Co. names permanent police chief

After a nationwide search, officials in Arlington County have named a new permanent police chief, a move that comes amid major plans for overhauling police practices in the county.

Charles “Andy” Penn, who has been serving as acting chief for the past nine months and is a nearly 30-year veteran of the department, is the new permanent chief, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz announced in a video message and news release on Friday.

Schwartz said an insider dedicated to change was the right move for the department.

Penn, who has already overseen a number of changes as interim chief, will oversee efforts to stand up a new community engagement division within the department — a 50-person unit to “transform how community policing is done, work closely with those who do not trust our officers and assist our schools as youth outreach officers,” Schwartz said.

That unit will be led by Capt. Wayne Vincent, a 25-year veteran of the department, who will also serve as deputy chief.

Penn took over the day-to-day running of the 350-officer department after the retirement of Murray “Jay” Farr in September, and his tenure has coincided with a nationwide reckoning over race and policing touched off by the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last summer.

“Since the racial and political turmoil last summer, many communities in our country have asked what kind of police department they want to have,” Schwartz said.

Charles “Andy” Penn (Courtesy Arlington County Police)

Schwartz said he interviewed a number of candidates for the post, and the county launched a community survey and held multiple focus groups to take community input.

Schwartz called Penn “a man with profound respect for the community and people of Arlington, and a person of unequaled integrity and fairness.”

Speaking to potential critics of the pick, Schwartz said “To those who have urged me to choose a transformational chief I say this … One of the surest paths to a better future for policing in our community is to have as its leader a person who knows the challenges, articulates a compelling vision for the future, and knows how to get there because of years of knowledge from working with the system.”

Schwartz added, “Some wonder whether a person of the system for 30 years can see what is good, while discarding that which is degrading and unworkable. My unequivocal answer is, ‘Yes.'”

In a statement, Penn said: “As a longtime member of the Arlington County Police Department and our community, I am honored and humbled to be appointed to this position. I am committed to bringing change and transformation to public safety and working collaboratively with the community on a broad range of issues, including racial equity.”

County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a statement he supported the pick, saying Penn “has earned my trust and the trust of many in our community, and is the right person to lead this important work. His commitment to listening, hard work, honest conversations, and openness will help keep our community safe. I respectfully ask all Arlington residents to give Chief Penn the chance to earn your trust, too.”

The department has been rolling out a number of changes over the past year, many of them overseen by Penn as the interim chief, including implementing body-worn cameras for the first time late last year.

Penn also has overseen updates to the department’s policies on bias-free policing and use-of-force policies and called for an outside analysis of all internal affairs cases and a review of the causes of racial disparity in arrests, Schwartz said.

In addition to Penn’s appointment as chief and Vinson’s as the leader of the new community engagement unit, the county announced Capt. Darrin Cassedy will be appointed deputy chief of operations, a role he has held in an acting capacity for the last nine months.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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