In Virginia’s June 11 primary, Democrats in Arlington and Falls Church will choose a nominee for Commonwealth’s Attorney, the chief prosecutor for those two jurisdictions. The two-term incumbent, Theo Stamos, is being challenged by a political newcomer, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. Greater Greater Washington’s volunteer Elections Committee considered the positions of these two qualified candidates, and we endorse Dehghani-Tafti.
Dehghani-Tafti has made a career in criminal justice reform, currently serving as the legal director for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. In this race, she has called for reform to the Arlington-Falls Church prosecutor’s office, highlighting issues of equity and opacity under Stamos. If elected, Dehghani-Tafti has pledged to increase transparency and accountability, focus on serious crimes, eliminate cash bail, and expand diversion programs.
Equitable law enforcement is an important aspect of creating safe streets and cities that work for everyone. If drivers expect not to be ticketed for speeding by 10 mph or less, they will drive 10 mph above the speed limit. If prohibitions on innocuous behavior while biking, like wearing headphones, are regularly enforced, people are less likely to bike. On the other hand, strict enforcement schemes can disproportionately impact people of color. While police departments play a central role in any enforcement, they are guided in large part by the priorities of the attorneys who prosecute crimes.
The Elections Committee was particularly impressed by Dehghani-Tafti’s focus on transparency and evidence-based and equitable practices. In response to GGWash’s questionnaire, she wrote that collecting and sharing data on prosecutions “ensures that any gaps or biases that may exist in the enforcement of our laws can be uncovered, so that they can then be addressed and amended to ensure that everyone is held accountable to the same degree while maintaining public safety.” Increased transparency and data analysis from the Commonwealth’s Attorney would be a welcome compliment to the Arlington County Police Department’s analysis of their own street safety data, which is shared annually with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees.
Beyond Dehghani-Tafti’s focus on transparency and equity, we hope that, if elected, she will take a hard look at how law enforcement impacts road safety. For example, Dehghani-Tafti noted a commitment to working towards criminal justice reform in Richmond, which could consider supporting efforts that would help to keep our streets safe, such as allowing jurisdictions more authority to use automatic enforcement of traffic laws.
Stamos, meanwhile, also has demonstrated a commitment to safety. As she has noted often on the campaign trail, Arlington and Falls Church are very safe places to live, work, and play. She touts this fact and stakes claim to reforms made in the criminal justice system in Arlington during her tenure, though for some, like drug court, she initially expressed concerns.
In response to our questionnaire, Stamos said that “[r]educing pedestrian deaths and injury is of paramount importance to my office,” and cited her office’s participation in training for first responders. She did not give details on that training or state whether she plans to update that training to include Vision Zero concepts. Arlington and Falls Church have not adopted Vision Zero policies.
Voters in the Democratic primary have good choices before them this June. Both candidates focus on safety is reassuring. Ultimately, we believe that Parisa Dehghani-Tafti’s commitment to transparency and accountability will enable the public to better understand the impact of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office on the safety and equity of Arlington and Falls Church.
This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our staff, board, and other volunteer committees. Read all of our 2019 primary coverage and endorsements here.