Where are you from and why did you decide to be a police officer?
I’m originally from Boston, Massachusetts. I was a military brat; my father was in the Air Force. So we moved around all the time and ended up here in January of ’76. I was attending Gar-Field High School at the time. After graduation I remained in the area. Later, in 1980, I went to work for the FBI in a civilian position.
What I saw as I worked in the FBI was, the work was never the same from one day to the next. I enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t tied to an office eight hours a day. I joined the police department in June of ’82.
You’ve done a little bit of everything in the department, including the SWAT team.
Our SWAT team was part-time while I was on it. I was also doing other functions on a full-time basis. This experience went on for a little over 10 years, as a team member, a team leader. I had the opportunity to go back there as a commander when I was assigned as a captain for special operations.
I greatly enjoyed being part of the special problems unit. We created that unit in the early '90s and I was one of the original members. That group just had a great time because they were a nontraditional detective unit mostly working in plainclothes, kind of trying to blend into the population. Doing a lot of surveillance and stakeouts and working on some kind of unique cases.
What kind of cases?
We worked everything. There was a serial burglar case where we arrested one guy who’d been arrested for something like 50 or 60 burglaries throughout Prince William and Fairfax. Because we were a nontraditional unit—we were plainclothes—we got to be a resource that was tapped into by all aspects of the department.
What are your priorities going to be as police chief?
First and foremost, my priority over the next few months will to be an observer, to listen, look and learn. While I know a lot about the department—I’ve certainly been with it for quite awhile—I think this position brings a different perspective and I need to get out and connect with people.
What’s it like to step into a job where there have only been two other people before you?
Chief George Owens served for 18 years, Chief Charlie Deane for 24. It is all at the same time daunting, humbling, and something that I consider a very unique and powerful privilege. I will never strive to fill the shoes of Chief Owens or Chief Deane. I can tell you frankly if I’m half the leader that Chief Deane has been over the last 24 years, I’ll consider it a success.
You’re coming in as chief around the time that the county budget gets put together. Did you have any input on that, or are you going to?
As a member of our department’s senior staff, I’ve always had input into our budget processes. I’ll be making the presentation to the board in early March.
are some things that have been asked for.
Over the last 20 plus years, we have been moving in a forward direction with our staffing plan. Up until 2008 or 2009, we had a staffing plan that the Board of Supervisors had endorsed, adding anywhere from 20-25 police officers every year, as well as a handful of civilians. That was all in an effort to move toward their comprehensive goal of two officers per 1,000 in the population.
If we were to try and achieve that goal now, that would be something on the order of a little over 800 officers in this department. We’re just under 600 now. It’s moving in a forward direction toward that goal. Adding these police officers will just keep pace with the county’s population growth.
Another thing that came up right before you stepped in as chief was the death of Officer Chris Yung. Where were you when you heard the news? What was it like for the department, and the reaction from the community?
Suffice it to say that it was something that was a tragedy for all of us in the department. Having been through something similar with the loss of Mike Pennington in 1990 on a SWAT operation, I had some experience with that kind of situation.
As you know, Chris’ brother Dale is a police officer with us and Dale’s wife is a police officer with us. And Chris’ wife was recently a police officer. She left in the fall, to take care of the kids. So there was a lot of impact across the ranks, but our folks were absolutely astounding in the way that they helped each other.
The public support has been overwhelming in a positive way. In police work sometimes we have a tendency to be more aware of some of the negative aspects of society, having to deal with criminals. We often can be less attentive to the fact that 80, 90 percent of the population we serve are really, really positive well-meaning people. The whole experience the week of Chris’ funeral was a great reminder of that fact. Nothing more so than the day of the funeral, when all across that lengthy procession, there were people standing on the sides of the road, standing on overpasses.
That show of support was truly heart-warming and a really encouraging move forward to help us as we go to work every day—to know that there is that much positive support in our community.
Interview condensed and edited for length and clarity.