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Posted on August 22, 2017 at 3:40 PM by Kelly King
Little did I know when we started the Chief’s Blog early this year that I would be writing my last as we approach the autumn season. I knew that I’d retire from NNPD sometime, had actually been contemplating it for this coming winter sometime, but here we are, and it’s time to say goodbye.
I said when I arrived her over 3 ½ years ago that this was my last job as a police chief, and so it is. For the first time in 40 plus years, I have to go through my closet and ensure I have enough of my OWN clothes to wear. Gone will be the ever-present chatter of the police radio in the background as I’m driving, as well as the ability to activate those hidden blue lights when I see an egregious traffic violation. I’ll still be tempted to pull off when I see an officer engaged in police work, kind of a “silent backup”. My family jokes that maybe I’ll even get my first name back, as it has been “Chief” since my first chief job in 1984.
I probably have more opinions about the quality of life in a community than many, given that I’ve been so engaged in sustaining and strengthening quality of life for so many years. One thing I’ve seen for too many years is that residents all too often think it is solely the job of the police to address quality of life issues. In reality, the police can assist and even facilitate improvement, but ultimately, it is the residents themselves who can and must lead to improvements.
Newport News is a great community; we are in the heart of our nation’s history, we are surrounded by the resources and beauty of water, and the landscape is lush with green. While natives can’t understand the context of my next remark, I find the winters here refreshingly mild (compared to the Upper Midwest where I’ve spent so much of my life). There are many things to do around here, and for my wife and I, we’ve made tremendous friendships with so many wonderful neighbors that we’re going to enjoy having a little more time to spend with them, along with traveling to see our kids and grandkids.
Newport News, like all great American cities, does have its quality of life issues to deal with. Gun violence plagues some neighborhoods, while is absent in others. The allure of gang life remains strong for youth in some neighborhoods, driven by a lack of jobs and positive role models in their lives. Some of the crime problems in our city come from what a sociologist might refer to as “community norms” that have eroded into acceptance of inappropriate and criminal behavior. When residents shrug off behaviors, such as carrying and using handguns to settle arguments and to increase acceptance by peers, it should come as little surprise that the behaviors will increase. When it becomes “normal” that kids will nightly pass through a neighborhood trying every car door, and stealing from all those left unlocked, two things come to mind: where are their parents, and why do people still leave valuables in the car and don’t bother to lock it? Let me give another example: throughout the Hampton Roads area, I have observed a level of pedestrians crossing mid-block willy-nilly like I’ve never seen in any other place I’ve lived. Is it a wonder why we have so many pedestrians killed annually? The only way to change that tragic outcome is for the community norms to change, to hold people accountable for what should be an unacceptable practice, and to teach children that it’s wrong rather than drag them by the hand as folks dodge traffic crossing the street.
I have enjoyed a strong and productive relationship working with the faith leaders in Newport News, and particularly with the African-American church pastors. Many of them understand this concept of community norms, and repeatedly bring the issue up with their parishioners. One problem with this is, far too many youth have abandoned the previous norm of church attendance, and the pastors’ lessons don’t reach their ears. Achievable Dreams schools certainly are providing a very powerful quality of life curriculum to their students, and the results are tremendous. But why is this limited to this particular school? The community has many other great institutions that are trying to address community norms, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula (among the best in the US). Again, it truly comes down to each and every citizen taking a long hard look at the existing community norms and taking action when a change needs to happen.
For my part, I’ve focused much of my energy on assessing the culture within the NNPD and taking steps to strengthen the many healthy and positive parts of it, while developing strategies to change those aspects that are unhealthy or unproductive. I understand how tough it is to change norms; leading change within police organizations is exhausting work. But, this is what chiefs are hired and paid to do, and hopefully some of the incremental improvements will yield positive results for years to come. As police chief, I want all our citizens to know, you have an outstanding police organization with a healthy set of norms, and a cadre of dedicated, ethical, and compassionate police officers who serve you 24/7/365.
A couple years ago, we started a citizen-driven initiative to develop strategies to reduce crime and improve quality of life in Newport News. Nicknamed C.R.I.M.E (Creating Responsibility in my Environment), we had hoped to engage thousands of residents of Newport News in a variety of focus groups designed to develop strategies that could be sustained. What we ended up with were six teams, each with a dozen or more residents, each taking on their own tone and area of focus. I’m very pleased to report that several of these teams have continuing efforts underway to address such significant community issues as homelessness, parenting, and strengthening police-community relationships. This process has proven that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to mobilizing volunteers.
This is how I’ll fondly remember my tenure as your police chief….engaging with the pastors, mobilizing concerned community volunteers, the privilege of working daily with such dedicated police officers. I’m grateful that my career as a police officer reaches its final chapter here, I hope that the personal ideas I’ve shared in this blog have been helpful, and close by asking everyone who reads to please take time to thank a police officer for their service, show your appreciation for NNPD at all opportunities, as there are always those who are quick to condemn. Be well.
Richard W. Myers, Chief of Police
Posted on July 19, 2017 at 8:46 AM by Kelly King
Stay tuned for tourney finale on August 4.
Posted on July 12, 2017 at 1:55 PM by Kelly King
About 15 years ago, I took my middle daughter to a concert of a pretty famous band for her 16th birthday at an outdoor venue in the Upper Midwest. After spreading out our large blanket on the grassy hillside, and diving into our KFC meal, she pointed out that the smell of marijuana was wafting around us, and then pretty soon, she pointed out that some folks near us were smoking it. I was a good 100 miles or more outside of my jurisdiction. My daughter, who is now an attorney, has always had a very strong “right and wrong” gene, and was wondering what I was going to do about this obvious violation of the law. I replied, “nothing.” She was incredulous. I explained further, “what do you think I SHOULD do? I’m one guy, amidst hundreds of folks who are here to have a good time and who are probably more tolerant of this activity than you or I, and I’m here as a concert-goer, not a police officer. Do you SEE a police officer nearby? No. Clearly this isn’t troubling to the locals, they’re focused more on a bigger mission. And what do you think would happen to your dad if I just marched over there and identified myself as an officer and demanded they put out their joints? We don’t own this. Until or unless it interferes with our ability to enjoy the concert, ignore it.” It was a good lesson for her that the reason police officers have discretion in enforcing laws is that sometimes one has to stay focused on the overall mission, and that can mean limiting the reaction to a minor skirmish at hand.
This week’s “Unity March” by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) group of the Hampton Roads provides another example where we chose to stay focused on the mission overall. We’ve heard from some who want to know, “how can you just let folks take to the streets without just arresting all of them, or blocking their ability to enter the roadway?” It’s a fair question. Under local ordinance, a parade permit is required for anything that is going to interfere with the normal flow of traffic, and BLM certainly didn’t get a parade permit. The instant the first marcher entered the roadway with the intention of marching up the street, it was technically a violation. However, we had a traffic and safety plan in place, implemented the plan, and in under an hour, were able to peacefully manage a small group of impassioned marchers who brought children, babies, and the elderly and marched from Mercury Blvd. up to Police Headquarters and back to Mercury on Jefferson Ave. Our mission is to preserve and protect the public peace, protect life, property, and ensure the safety of all persons. All of that was accomplished. I would add that we have sufficient video and photos that we could, if we chose, always try to identify anyone who violated the law and pursue charges, and we will always review such situations with our legal advisors to determine if it is the best reaction to the matter. We believe that our planning and response was the right thing to do; it minimized risk to all involved, no one was hurt, no one acted in a violent manner, there was no direct conflict or battles between the police and the marchers.
We train our officers to follow a powerful decision making model: What’s Important Now (WIN). It puts our contemplated reactions and responses to the test, to measure up if the action is worth the consequences. In policing, we all too often have to take steps that result in quite adverse consequences, for others and even for ourselves, and we’re prepared and trained to do that when necessary. What’s Important Now? In our estimation, drawing a line in the pavement for about 30 marchers, 1/3 of whom were children, who were peacefully assembling for a limited period of time, didn’t seem to be as important as ensuring that all persons whether on foot or in cars were safe.
Some confuse “doing the right thing” with “political correctness”. I don’t really like the term “political correctness” because I believe policing is an apolitical activity, if we are truly to be fair and impartial in our defense of justice, we can’t pick sides nor be political about anything. Last week, the Charlottesville Police Department demonstrated that when they kept a hate-group safe just as they did those who came to counter their hate. They simply didn’t take sides.
We apologize to anyone who may have been mildly inconvenienced on Monday night due to road closures. Our mission was to keep everyone safe, and to reopen the roadway with expedience once it was safe to do. I’m proud of the work of the planning team and the officers and police aides and cadets who carried out the plan. We certainly reserve the right to respond differently under different circumstances when someone tries to disrupt normal traffic flow. While our mission is steady, our tactics are fluid, and just as we practiced Monday night, our response can be varied and adaptable. We always want to work with organizers of events like the BLM march, and while they ignored our efforts to better coordinate with them this time, we won’t stop trying…..let’s hope they submit for the parade permit if there’s a next time!