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Update in Northern Virginia: Police Agencies Still Secretive, Newspaper Editor Still Okay With That, Plus a Disturbing Police Visit to the Former Residence of a "Reason Institute" Writer


Over the last six months, I've written several articles about the extraordinary secrecy of Northern Virginia's police agencies (see here, here, and here). A few updates on the story:

First, Michael Lee Pope, the reporter for the Connection Newspaper chain and the NPR affiliate WAMU who deserves all the credit for breaking and pushing this story, reports on yet another case in which police agencies aren't cooperating with a citizen's attempt at getting information. In this instance, it's the family of a teenager murdered at an Alexandria bakery. Previously, Pope had reported on how police officials in Fairfax County were stonewalling the family of an unarmed man shot and killed by police during a traffic stop.

Pope's most recent report then triggered another bizarre reaction from Scott McCaffrey, editor of the Sun Gazette newspaper, a Connections competitor that also serves several communities in the Northern Virginia area. You may remember that back in September, McCaffrey inexplicably dismissed Pope's reporting on all of this police secrecy as "tilting at windmills." This time, he's even more critical. In a blog post titled "Where are the editors?", McCaffrey scolds:

One would think there are more important campaign issues for the Arlington Connection to be reporting on than how candidates for County Board stand on providing more access to police records.

Yet reporter Michael Lee Pope is on a mission, and he apparently is unrestrained by editors either at the paper or on WAMU-FM, where some of his material is picked up.

Connectionerinos, how about some coverage of serious issues affecting the community? We know reporters are underpaid, overworked and underloved, but by golly, they shouldn't get to go out on strange tangents like open-records laws while leaving major stories uncovered.

The region has the most secretive police agencies in the country, unwilling to release even the mere name of a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man, or to give a murder victim's family information about the investigation of their son's killer, and a local newspaper editor thinks covering all of this is a "strange tangent"? Who taught Scott McCaffrey journalism?

Finally, I've spent the last few months trying to get information on a somewhat disturbing personal twist to all of this. I lived in Alexandria for about seven years, until May, when I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In September, I received an email from one of my former neighbors. It seems that in late September the new tenant in my old house got a visit from an Alexandria Sheriff's Department deputy. Apparently, the deputy stopped by my old home and inquired whether anyone from "the Reason Institute [sic]" lived at the residence.

I've since spoken with one of the new tenants about this (though she gave me permission to look into and write about this, I'm not going to publish her name, for obvious reasons). She confirmed to me that all of this happened. She also said the deputy was holding some papers that looked to have articles printed on them, but he shielded them in a way that prevented her from reading them. She said the officer didn't mention me by name, only the name of my employer.

Now there are lots of reasons why an Alexandria deputy might have cause visit my home. Perhaps an unpaid parking or speeding ticket. Maybe there was a break-in in the area. Several months before I moved out, my roommate called the police after being assaulted by a neighbor, and I was one of the witnesses. I can also see someone from the department possibly disagreeing with an article I'd written about the area's police agencies, in which case they could have called or e-mailed Reason, or written a letter to the editor.

But it's hard to come up with any justification as to why a uniformed deputy would visit a private residence asking whether anyone from Reason worked there, just after we'd published a series of articles critical of local police departments, other than a misguided attempt at intimidation. Maybe there is an innocuous explanation. But I haven't been able to find one.

I spoke with the Alexandria Sheriff's Department about this. The officer who patrols the area where I lived says it wasn't him, and that he was unaware of anything I'd written. His supervisor said she's never heard of me or of Reason, and has no knowledge of any officer visiting my former residence.

I should add here that I have never met the new tenants of my old home in person. They moved in well after I left, and before all of this had no idea who I am. The woman told me she was sufficiently rattled by her encounter with the deputy that she went inside immediately to look up Reason, at which point she eventually found my name and recognized it from some junk mail that had come to the house. That's when she mentioned the incident to my former neighbors, who then contacted me. My point here is that it seems rather improbable that she would have made the story up.

In October I called the tenant back, asked her for a general physical description of the officer. I have since tried to call the department back to give them that description, but they haven't returned my calls.

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: Wikileaks Saga Hits Canada and Russia, GOP Vows to Block Dems in Senate, Death Penalty Days Numbered in Texas?

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  1. Dear Squirrels,

    Why the F* isn’t there a side bar anymore on this website? How am I supposed to navigate easily to the Brickbrats?

    -Mister Duck

    1. They hid it in the top bar. Go to ‘Archives’, wait an ETERNITY for the drop down to appear, and it’s the last item on the list. Almost like they’re hiding it or something.

      1. I didn’t have to wait an eternity, which is a surprise, because more and more sites seem to be screwing Opera over.

  2. Sounds like anyone with the last name of “Balko” may want to be extra careful round abouts in NoVa for a bit. . .this sounds pretty creepy.

  3. You’re creeping me out, Radley.

  4. Glad you moved when you did, Radley? I hope reason has lawyers on staff that you can call 24/7. If they don’t, they should start.

    1. Also: get a CCW and a gun. Here are some cheap, light suggestions.

      1. I’ve heard good things about that Ruger. I personally think the Beretta Cheetah is the best .380. I am biased though.

        1. The Ruger is so light that when shooting it, it twists around in your hand, and I assume the Kel-Tec is the same. But hey, it’s a super close range pistol, and if it’s not light enough for you to routinely carry, it does you no good anyway.

          I have a Beretta Tomcat. The Cheetah is just a little too big and heavy.

          Now, for all out awesome, you want a Seecamp. Not cheap, though. My friend has the .32 and it’s as small and well made as advertised.

      2. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m in any physical danger. My guess is that this is was just a deputy who saw something online and reacted in a dumb way.

        1. I am not sure whether a visit from a dumb cop is any better than a visit from a smart one.

          1. I am not sure whether a visit from a dumb cop is any better than a visit from a smart one.

            Hmmm. Smart cops. An interesting concept that should be explored further.

            1. They’re more of a myth than Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

              1. I thought I saw a smart cop once. Turned out to be a guy in a Halloween costume, though.

                1. Accompanied by his equally mythicaly-themed date, Sexy Cop.

                  1. Even the ones that are technically good looking do seem to have had the sexy beat out of them at some point.

        2. I’m not a conspiracy guy. I doubt the deputy acted on his own accord.

        3. Remarkable insouciance considering the sort of stories you report all the time of other people’s encounters with cops.

          Either way, what a thug, that police officer.

        4. I didn’t think you were saying that, Radley, but in my opinion, you are in a shall-issue state and you might as well.

          It can’t hurt.

          1. You’re in Tennessee! It is perfectly acceptable to simply build a large porch, go to the pound and adopt as many hound dogs as you need.

            Do the local cops carry 15 round magazines? Then adopt 16 hound dogs and let them sleep under your porch all day. Don’t worry about what your neighbors think, I’m sure they have their own pack of dogs under their porch. (Watch old Hee Haw episodes if you need help with porch design).

            By the time the SWAT team gets done with the pack of dogs, you should have time to run away.

            1. What an epically awesome tactical scenario!


              PS Still get the CCW – and I use Glock, personally…

            2. Then adopt hound dogs in multiples of 16and let them sleep under your porch all day.


              1. If you have 16 hounds, you are gonna have a whole lot of multiplying going on. Even in the TN heat.

                Especially when your pack starts mingling with the Bumpus hounds next door.

                1. That works if you have time to wait for puppies to grow up.

                  1. wylie, you don’t think that LEO’s extra-like shooting puppies? I hate to break the bad news to you, but they consider them to be high value targets.

                    Puppies are harder to hit because of their size and when you do hit them with hollowpoints, the resulting explosion is goregasmic.

            3. Best comment ever.

        5. Maybe he just wanted an autograph. 🙂

        6. Write a letter to the editor? C’mon, Sally. He probably just wanted to vent his side of it to you directly face to face… like men… where one has a gun… and a badge… and de facto immunity for murder.

        7. Perhaps Alexandria is recruiting from Prince George’s County.

        8. My guess is that this is was just a deputy who saw something online and reacted in a dumb way.

          Me being the occasional optimist (or perhaps, instinctive contrarian), I envisage a possible scenario in which said Deputy had a Serpico moment, and in an effort to reach out to someone he could trust to help expose the corruption and incompetence in his department, discovered the Never Scared* journalism of Radley Balko, and decided to reach out personally rather than send a (possibly traceable) email or phone call and spill his tortured soul…

          Possible is not necessarily probable, however…

          (ps. I still dont know how to post links)
          *”Never Scared” reference =

        9. Hey, he could have wanted to leak some info to you. My BF is a cop who is in a whistleblower lawsuit against the state because he’s being retaliated against for turning in some corrupt supervisors…Honestly, there are no good channels except for the press to which a cop can turn when he encounters corruption. The channels the govt provides are bullshit, of course, since these channels are controlled by the govt. Maybe he saw your articles and felt he could trust you with his career and livelihood.

          1. I think below commentators have already blown this idea to pieces, but whatever, there’s always the *possibility*…

      3. I’m a fan of Sig and Para Ordnance.

        When I carry (which is kinda rare anymore these days, but sometimes), it’s either my Sig P228 or my Para OPS, which is a very sweet, short-barreled 1911 .45 ACP.

        I know the old mantra “shot placement” and “the best gun is the on you have when you need it”, but for my money, I want a little more stopping power than a .32 or .380. My Para OPS is full of Speer Gold Dot HPs – a/k/a the flying ashtrays.

        1. Dude, the whole stopping power argument seems like an internet/gun range circle jerk discussion to me. Would you want to get shot with a .32 or a .380? I sure as fuck wouldn’t.

          The fact is, unless you’ve been in combat and shot someone, neither of us knows jack shit about what will actually deter or stop someone, and I refuse to regurgitate the tuff gai “I only carry .44 mag!” crap.

          I’m not saying you’re doing that, but the whole small caliber argument annoys me.

          1. I know, I know – and I agree. It’s really mostly a matter of personal preference, what you feel comfortable carrying, and what you’re good at shooting accurately. I find I’m actually more accurate with my Para .45 than I am with my Sig 9 mm.

            And I totally agree – a well-placed .22 can kill a dude just as dead as a .44 mag.

            I do like my .45, tho.

            1. I should’ve refreshed before I posted.

              I still blame threaded commments.

            2. I like my .45 too (CZ 97B)…at the range. Or during a zombie apocalypse.

          2. People still die after getting hit with a .22.

            Just sayin’.

            1. Bobby Kennedy, anyone?

          3. Stopping power does matter. It’s why the FBI switched to .40 S&W for their service pistols after the 1986 Miami shootout.

            1. Maybe in an actual, multi-person, serious gunfight. But deterring a mugger? I doubt it.

              1. Hyperbole: I like .40 cal cause if poops hits the air circulator there should be pleanty (depending on how my aim is) of .40 ammo lying on the ground.

                Legit concern: Control of ammo production is a clear method of gun control so use the same as the feds and no worries.

                1. ….and this is why I got into reloading…:)

            2. The other point that could be made from that incident is that if you are likely to get into a major shoot out, bring a rifle.

              1. For my home protection needs, I think the chunk-chunk sound of a pump action shotgun provides plenty of stopping power.

                At least, I hope so.

                1. You should probably keep ammo in it just in case the perp doesn’t drop dead from the sound.

                2. Keep a control on you that turns off the lights, spews out the sound of your doors shutting, and the voice of Chazz Palminteri saying, ‘now you can’t leave.’

            3. Actually, they switched to the 10 mm by S&W (the 1076 to be exact). They didn’t like it, so S&W created the .40 which then became their service pistol.

          4. When it comes to home defense, firearms are a bit like nuclear warheads. Having one is far more important than the size.

            I also prefer a firearm that would look “good” in court. This is why I recommend using a fine English Purdey for home defense and a vintage Colt Peacemaker outside the home.

    2. Sure they have general counsel.

  5. So your name really is Radley Balko then.

    Also, this is creepy as fuck.

  6. Watch out for the black helicopters, Radley!

    I bet this guy just wanted an autograph. You’re something of a celebrity, y’know…

  7. I’m so sick of being afraid of police. This only adds fuel to the paranoia fire. Please be careful, Radley.

    1. Why be afraid of them? You might need to treat encounters with caution, but the last thing I’d do is be afraid of them. That’s what they want.

      1. you should at least be cautious. Otherwise we will see an article that says something about Radley getting killed in a drug deal gone bad (of course crack will be found on him)

      2. you should at least be cautious. Otherwise we will see an article that says something about Radley getting killed in a drug deal gone bad (of course crack will be found on him)

  8. Why be afraid of them?

    Aside from the fact that they can totally destroy you, there’s that little “murder with impunity” thing.


    That Ruger should be pink, with flowers on it, by the way.

    1. Still no reason to fear. Why go into an encounter at a disadvantage as a fearful target? Cautious sure, but fearful and afraid?

    2. Well, there’s this.

      1. love sig, not fond of the girlie finish.

        I’m a working tool sort of guy unless the gun is collectible, even then not a big fan of pretty.

      2. All the gun makers are making their little pocket guns pretty to try to appeal to the fairer sex.

        SIG has been using the “rainbow” finish for years (I’m not sure if they’re trying to appeal to women or the Pink Pistols set), and Ruger (among others) now has a pink version of their pocket .380.

  9. My guess is that this is was just a deputy who saw something online and reacted in a dumb way.

    Maybe he had some sort of a tip for you.

    It’s a strange, strange, world.

  10. Is it possible he wanted to give you inside info?

    1. He wanted to buy one of those sweet zipper hoodies, I bet.

    2. Well, if we read a story about a cop being fired without cause from the Arlington Police Dept. or getting killed in a botched drug string, we’ll know that was probably the case.

      1. Or, perhaps, the Alexandria Sheriff’s Dept.

  11. When I lived in Toledo, OH, the chief of police, Mike Navarre, called and harrassed me at my work after my letter to the editor (critical of police – seemingly in cooperation with the newspaper – publicly harrassing an independent candidate for city council in the lead up to an election) was published in the local rag.

    I found out later he had called my parent’s house, and my mother, in a moment of “what the fuck was she thinking?”, told him where I worked and gave him my work number.

    1. Shoot, before you complain about your ma giving you up to the cop, you should get down on your knees and thank the flying spaghetti monster that she isn’t Mrs. Aitken.

      I bet poor Brian would have been happy if his ma only gave up work phone number when the police came calling.

      1. Flying Spaghetti Monster is dead. Long live the Angry Hillbilly God and his immovable stump and irresistible four wheeler!

        For the betting pool, it was someone coming to give you inside info. If they were coming to kill you, no one would show their faces to your neighbors in the lead up.

      2. she said she works with children who have mental health problems, and she has always been taught to call police as a precaution when someone appears despondent and shows any sign that he might harm himself.

        Probably because most mental health care professionals are the most execrable statists imaginable. Oh, and hi, Neu Mejican!

  12. So what is the latest news on the future Radley Balko suicide? Will the medical examiner explain how he shot himself in the back of the head 3 times.

    1. The bite marks prove it.

  13. dude you live in Nashville? When’s the Nashville reason meetup?

    1. Set it up…I’d like one of his nut punches to be delivered in person.

  14. You best stay out of the Old Dominion, my friend.

  15. Radley is doing the absolutely right thing by exposing this in print. He’s establishing a printed record about this. This is all about the LEOs wanting to avoid publicity, intimidate reporters, etc.

    Also, where’s Dunphy?

    1. Somewhere Streisand is singing about this effect…

  16. Forget a gun. Radley needs a bulletproof vest for his dog.

  17. Well, there’s this.

    I got a Sig P6 (9mm German police “surplus”) recently; very nice. And it doesn’t look like it belongs on a charm bracelet.

    And, as for the “stopping power” back-and-forth: my Sig Mosquito .22 loaded with CCI Velocitors did a pretty impressive job turning a phone book into confetti. I sure as fuck wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end.

    1. I got hit with a round from a Daisy BB as a yute, which was enough to convince me that any *real* bullet was more than I ever want to deal with.

      Motherfucker hurt. I wouldn’t want to get hit with a round of anything – human flesh is much more delicate than phonebooks…

      1. A future and current member of the NYPD shot me in the ass as a yute, as well. It was not a pleasant experience.

  18. Hmm. A sales rep in a famously corrupt area of the country for a former employer of mine found out the hard way that he or one of his family had pissed off the wrong people. His son was found in a hotel room, dead of a single gunshot to the back of the head while kneeling. This was dutifully reported by the authorities as a “suicide.” Said sales rep also never managed to sell anything to any regional municipalities again.

    1. …another, tragic “drug-related” death…

    2. You can play anecdote all day long. I’ve seen what’s left of a 13 year old after shot by two cops and charged with trying to keep him alive while his mother falls apart.

      Fear is an irrational response. Caution is not.

  19. The most charitable explanation is that the cop was a potential whistleblower who wanted to speak in private.

    Next most charitable, the cop may have a sincere argument to make, but fears that speaking publicly on department policies or issues without authorization will get him in trouble.

    Sad to say, I think that the most likely explanation for an in person visit is that it leaves no phone or other records.

    1. but fears that speaking publicly on department policies or issues without authorization will get him in trouble.

      Showing up at the house in uniform kinda debunks that possibility, no?

  20. I really need to get out of NoVA. Mostly because of the high cost of living, but the shitty police departments aren’t helping.

  21. The fact that he was in uniform makes me believe this wasn’t someone who wanted to be a source or a whistleblower. If he read any of Balko’s articles about police militarization and abuses, he knows that showing up in civvies would be the best choice if he wanted to give out incriminating information. It doesn’t take a genius to know that someone with Balko’s experience with cops would never talk to an on-duty cop in uniform without a lawyer.

  22. Tell us when we all need to start shaving out heads, and crying: “I am Radley Balko!”

  23. For carry guns, I’m a Kahr fan. Adequate stopping power is the biggest round you can comfortably shoot – there’s no such thing as too much gun. Carry guns are small (meaning loud and kicky) so you’ll probably wind up with a lighter round than you might in a full size pistol.

    I shoot a .45 in full size, but that round is ridiculous in a carry gun, so I go 9mm to carry.

    1. No such thing as too much gun, RC. My carry piece is a 5″ 1911. If I’m feeling delicate like you ladies and the wife isn’t carrying, I’ll use her 4″.

      1. If it takes out your walls, that’s too much gun.

        1. Damn near anything will punch through your average residential interior wall. 2 sheets of drywall doesn’t stop much.

          1. Birdshot… something like #8 birdshot has no real penetrating power but it does make a mess of flesh, center mass.

            1. Helpful gun ownership tips for the conscientious homeowner.

              1. No need to kill town home neighbors… generally.

            2. Like you say, no penetration. Birdshot makes a mess, but it won’t reliably put anybody down. Birdshot is for birds. People require more than flesh wounds to stop them.

              1. The mere presence of a shotgun (and the disinctive click-clack of chambering a round) is going to end 90 percent of situations. Most home defense situations are at less than 15′ range. Without going into Wound Ballistics Journal esoterica, birdshot is normally going to achieve around 6″ of penetration and a serious wound cavity. Instant kill? Not likely. End of threat? Highly likely. My blood lust is limited to game animals I actually eat. If I could end a situation nonlethally, that is my preference. Your mileage may vary.

                1. You can eat people…

          2. I clearly didn’t mean anything that you can spackle over before the evidence team gets there by using the word walls. Sheesh.

        2. There’s a difference between a carry piece and a home protection piece.

          For home protection, I’m an advocate of the shortest-barrel 20-gauge shotgun legal in your jurisdiction, with game load. No need for a 12-ga., and a 20-ga is plenty of power, but lighter and easier to swing around in close quarters; game load won’t overpenetrated, but up close will stop the threat.

          1. That’s true. I have a 410/22 over-under fr most of my home defense needs, but I also keep a 357 because if someone is going after the locks on my back suite, I know exactly where they are going to lean their heads from the other side of the walk=in closet wall.

    2. What about a Colt Defender in a .45. Not ideal, but I would stop short of calling it “ridiculous.”

      1. Anything less than a bazooka is for pussies

    3. .45 is ridiculous in a carry gun? Have you ever fired one of the modern 1911 .45 variants designed for concealed carry (e.g., the Para OPS)? Mine shoots sweeter than my buddy’s Colt Commander, which is a much bigger gun. It’s an easy shooter.

      Depends on the gun and on the person doing the carrying. Some guns conceal better than others generally, but also some people can better conceal a gun than other people, just based on physiology.

    4. I’m a PPK man myself. Heavier than a lot of the newer .380s, but it’s got some style and fits well next to my skinny-assed body.

  24. Radly Balko


  25. I won’t carry a gun of any size. For one thing, they are much harder to keep concealed, which is a legal requirement of carrying. For another, they are heavy, bulky and uncomfortable.

    So a full-size .45 (and I love my hi-cap Para) is right out. For a gun I will carry (3″ barrel), I find shooting a .45 to be unmanageable, kind of like setting off a directional hand grenade. In my hand.

    So: Home defense: High-cap .45 (with integral laser, just because I can) should take care of anybody who gets past my sure-to-be-very-pissed-off dog.

    Carry: Kahr 9mm.

    1. In my experience, if you get a good holster, most of the issues you describe go away. Heavy is the only one that you can’t fix.

      But holsters are kind of a bitch to shop for. You really need to use one for about a month before you can figure out how well it works for you or not.

    2. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to use a flashy gun for home defense (or carry for that matter). It probably won’t help you with the jury if it looks like you were hoping for a chance to use it on someone.

      1. Awwwww…..?

        …Dude, it even plays “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” while you fire! With a *light show*! and the subwoofers ‘r kickin!!

  26. This is an odd thing — the Sheriff’s office here is just responsible for operating the jail and serving legal papers, they aren’t really cops. So I can’t understand why the Sheriff’s office or one of the deputies would care one way or another abt the transparency issue. It doesn’t effect them, so why would they be harassing you???

  27. ewspaper, a Connections competitor that also serves several communities in the Norther

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