Blog module icon

Police Chief's Blog

NNPD Blog Banner

If you're interested in receiving email or text updates to this newsletter, you can subscribe by visiting the link below.

» Subscribe to Police Chief's Blog

May 24

Property Crime Prevention

Posted on May 24, 2017 at 1:42 PM by Office of the Chief

We continue to focus our resources towards reducing violence in our community, through strategic partnerships, targeted enforcement, and community engagement. It is an easy sell to engage people in the business of violence reduction. However, we continue to see almost unfettered property crime that doesn’t directly involve violence against persons, and it is much more difficult to get community buy-in for prevention of these crimes. The missing link may be the lack of understanding about the connection between some property crimes and crimes of violence.

We are increasingly seeing that robberies, shootings, and other crimes of violence are being done in conjunction with lesser property crimes. A key example: stolen vehicles. More and more we’re seeing gang activity involving violence using stolen cars to carry out their crimes. The challenging part is that the majority of vehicles stolen or broken into in Newport News are crimes that were completely preventable!

If I asked 100 people how smart it would be to paint their car neon yellow and put a flashing sign on it that said “Steal Me!”, 100% would say that is not a smart thing to do, right? Yet, hundreds if not thousands of our residents leave their cars parked unlocked, many with the key visible from the outside, or leave a “spare” key in the glovebox or center console. I don’t want to sound rude, but that is an open invitation for someone to steal objects out of the car and/or steal the car itself. These are completely preventable crimes.

When someone makes it that easy to steal their car, indirectly they are contributing to the violence in our community. That may sound like a harsh statement, but these are acts of enablement. While it may take an actor with ill intent to carry out the crime, they must be given an opportunity to accompany the intent, and this is where an unsuspecting citizen who is careless about security is unknowingly enabling the crime.

The same can be said about homeowners who obtain handguns to protect themselves and their property, but then leave their weapons unsecured around the house. Overwhelmingly, these guns end up being stolen in burglaries or even on occasion used against the person who obtained them to protect themselves. Unsecured guns in the home contribute to an elevated risk of suicide, theft, domestic violence, etc. The simple act of locking up guns in a gun safe and/or using gun locks prevents most of these potential acts of violence.

For too long, the institution of policing has sold itself as the end-all for stopping crime. The ugly truth is that we are limited in our abilities to reduce crime if we don’t have a fully engaged community in partnership with us, and citizens who regularly practice smart risk reduction behaviors. We WANT people to be safe, act safe, and minimize the odds of victimization. To do this, citizens should know:

• Criminals tend not to hang-out or commit crimes in public areas that are widely occupied by law-abiding citizens who are comfortable using the public space. Public areas where crime is high CAN be “reclaimed” by the public, driving criminals away simply through a combination of visible police presence AND an active community presence.

• Criminals tend to follow the path of least resistance. Think of predators in nature; they tend to go after the weakest link in the herd, separating them off from the masses and striking when they’re most vulnerable. The human corollary of that is for people to gather in numbers, be aware, and target hardening…..if it’s too hard to break into YOUR home, the criminal is going to look for a softer target.

• The majority of crimes are crimes of opportunity. This means that sometimes an offender may “fall into” committing a crime more than be actively on “the hunt”. Consider thefts from cars: in Newport News, the majority of such crimes come from offenders trying every car door in a neighborhood and entering those cars left unlocked, without the need to break glass to enter the car. When they DO break glass, it’s probably due to the attractive valuable laying in full view (laptop, cellphone, tablet, etc.)

• The old maxim of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies to crime: the cost of proper outdoor lighting, door locks, alarms, and simply taking time to lock doors is far cheaper than the cost of recovering from a significant theft experience.

The Newport News Police Department can provide additional crime prevention tips for you, either individually or in group settings. Contact your local precinct for information about how our Community Resource Officers can help with crime prevention planning and preparedness. And….PLEASE LOCK YOUR DOORS.

I welcome comments, questions or suggestions for future blog posts. Feel free to send them my way at chiefsblog@nnva.gov.
May 15

Police Week 2017

Posted on May 15, 2017 at 2:57 PM by Office of the Chief

2017_POLICE-WEEK

It’s Police Week and there are several events underway to help celebrate the service of our police department employees as well as to honor those who have given all in the service of their communities. Police Week has grown from the 1962 Presidential declaration of May 15 at Peace Officers Memorial Day, and includes thousands of events across the country. Certainly a highlight of this week is the national candlelight vigil service on Saturday May 13th, as well as the national Memorial Service conducted on May 15 at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. Anyone who has attended any of the D.C. events will attest to the solemn and reverent mood as the names of officers killed in the line of duty from the prior year are added to the Peace Officers Memorial.

I am of the mind that every week ought to be “police appreciation week”. Week in and week out, police officers, dispatchers, records staff, forensic technicians, police aides and cadets along with countless others are working 24/7 behind the scenes to keep us all safe and secure. While the public may hear of noteworthy events, what isn’t often reported are the many, many acts of kindness and humanity shown by police as they assist people on their worst day. Thanks to a disjointed national narrative for the past few years, too many members of society condemn the institution of policing, and the enmity that results makes it even more challenging for officers to carry out their already difficult mission. Ironically, some of those who shout loudest about police misconduct would be the first to shout even louder if they were victimized and the police didn’t quickly resolve the situation. I am not suggesting for a minute that there isn’t a need for continual reform in policing. In the middle of this Police Week I will surpass my 40th anniversary of first taking the oath as a police officer, and in that 40 years I’ve seen tremendous growth, improvement, and reform in how the police exercise the unmatched responsibilities we’ve been given. Throughout my tenure as a chief, I have worked on reforming the culture of both individual agencies AND the industry, and it is clear we have plenty of work yet to do. However, I remind everyone of the old proverb that my father raised me to always be mindful of: “until you walk a mile in another man’s shoes, don’t judge him.” Unless you’ve been where police officers go each and every day, you will never fully understand the challenges, stresses, fears and realities that comprise a police officer’s tour of duty.

There are many ways that citizens in our community can show their appreciation for police. If you happen to stop in at one of our periodic Coffee with a Cop events, take a few minutes to chat with one of the officers gathered there. When you’re out working in your yard, wave at the passing patrol car and perhaps even engage in some “get to know you” conversation with the officer on the beat. We certainly invite citizens to our 2017 Police Memorial Service on Tuesday, May 16th, 7:00 PM at the Mariner’s Museum. You may be shopping at a local business where an “extra duty” officer is working; take time to say hello. We are out and about, every single day, and there are opportunities to say thank you if you look for them.
 
Police Week is a good time to stress the significant need for more police officer applicants. We are trying to fill an inordinate amount of police officer vacancies, and we need good applicants. Our recruiting section can be reached at 757-928-4150 and you can research the job requirements here.

May 02

How we investigate Officer-Involved Shootings

Posted on May 2, 2017 at 4:11 PM by Office of the Chief

Today’s blog posting will hopefully leverage timely information to provide insight and public education on issues that are complex and challenging within the career of policing. As many of you may know, we had an unusual event this past weekend in which an officer used lethal force, most commonly called an Officer-Involved Shooting (OIS). While Hollywood portrays the life of the average street cop or detective periodically being engaged in shoot-outs, the reality is that a very low percentage of police officers in the U.S. ever have to fire their weapons other than at the firing range. The incident this past weekend occurred following the deployment of our Tactical Team, who receives additional training and specialized weapons due to the nature of this assignment. While it is inappropriate to provide too many details about that specific incident, given that it is an active investigation, I would like to provide some context and a detailed description of everything that occurs behind the scenes whenever there is an OIS.

First and foremost, it is important to recognize that within the system of law that we operate under, it is the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office (the prosecutor) that makes the determination if the use of lethal force by a police officer is justified and lawful or not. Because this is a legal finding that is driven by the evidence and facts surrounding an incident, a complete “criminal” investigation is conducted. Any loss of life at the hands of another is a homicide, even if it is ultimately ruled a justifiable homicide. This is where a key difference lies: a murder is a crime, whereas homicide is the legal term for one human killing another. So, a homicide can be justifiable (self defense, lawful police use of force, etc.) or criminal (e.g. first degree homicide); however, a murder is a generic term for the crime of killing someone.

Concurrently, every police agency has to make a determination as to the actions of their employee in using lethal force within the context of their policies, rules and regulations, and the training provided to the officer. This, then, is an Internal Affairs investigation that is completely separate from the criminal investigation that gets presented to the Commonwealth Attorney. There could be a scenario wherein an officer may have violated agency policies and/or training and yet was within the law as to the use of lethal force. I have seen some police agencies fire a police officer for a blatant rules violation even though the prosecutor may rule the action lawful and justifiable from a legal perspective. This is why it is very important that the Internal Affairs investigation focus its attention to the policy, rules, and training implication and the Criminal Investigation focus on the legal elements of homicide and the elements therein.

In Newport News, we use our major crimes homicide detectives to conduct the criminal investigation of an OIS. They are the most accomplished and experienced at dealing with these types of incidents, they understand most what the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office will want and need, and they are highly focused on the elements of homicide, gathering physical evidence present in major crimes, and interviewing witnesses. We also have the option to call in an outside agency to conduct the Criminal Investigation if necessary and appropriate. Our Internal Affairs investigators coordinate the Internal Affairs piece, but we go one step further, by empaneling a Shoot Team to review every aspect of the incident from a policy, rules and training perspective. We draw Shoot Team members from various units within the agency but not directly related to the unit where the officer(s) who were involved in the use of lethal force are assigned.

In a landmark Supreme Court ruling many years ago referred to as Garrity, the rules make it clear on the need to keep these investigations isolated from each other. That is because any officer who was involved in the use of force in an OIS incident is entitled to the same 5th Amendment Rights against self-incrimination as any other citizen under our Constitution. However, under the Internal Affairs investigation, police departments can “order” their employees to make a statement or face discipline up to and including termination. Therefore, the Garrity case makes it clear that any information compiled in the Internal Affairs case cannot be used in the Criminal Investigation as a per se 5th Amendment violation. To put it in simpler terms….the Internal Affairs investigators are entitled to anything and everything out of the Criminal Investigation…but, that is strictly a one-way street; nothing can pass from the Internal Affairs investigation to the Criminal Investigation.

Fatal OIS incidents are very uncommon. Historically in Newport News, the Criminal Investigation component ends up filling multiple 3 or 4” binders, with hundreds of pages of meticulous investigative reports. The Shoot Team presentation to the Command Staff may take many months to prepare before it’s finally ready to go. As the Chief, I have the discretion during these processes to return the involved officer to either modified or full duty, depending on the circumstances. Any officer who is in an OIS is subjected to a period of Administrative Leave sometimes followed by modified duty until all indications are that it’s appropriate for them to return to work.

Naturally, one very important aspect in this process is attending to the emotional and psychological well being of any employees who may be affected by an OIS. Both sworn and non-sworn employees can be impacted whenever use of force is involved, and we offer a variety of services for employees to access if desired or needed. Over the past few years, the stress of policing has been climbing due to the national narrative driven by some highly publicized incidents, all of which has only made the mission of policing more challenging. One key finding of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing published over a year ago was the need to take better care physically and emotionally of our police officers.

Because OIS events are uncommon, there is often public misunderstanding of why we do what we do. Even as we desire to be highly transparent in such matters, much of the evidence that could act to strengthen public trust is, in fact, the same evidence that the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office will rely on to make their legal determination, and therefore, we are urged to keep such matters confidential until the criminal case is closed. Sometimes, there is also pending civil litigation, and defense attorneys insist on keeping details non-public until the litigation is resolved. None of this serves to help build public trust or add to our transparency, and it contributes to police leadership feeling absolutely between “a rock and a hard place”.

Finally, there has been significant public and professional debate about the timing of releasing the names of the officer(s) involved in OIS incidents. On one hand, the media rightly insists that this falls within the “public’s right to know” and it is hard to disavow that this is of high public interest. On the other hand, one does not surrender their basic human rights such as privacy for their family when one takes the oath of office to serve as a police officer. We have an obligation to provide timely and appropriate public information when we can, and are as equally obligated to help preserve the privacy of our employee’s families who can and often are damaged by any ensuing risks that accompany disclosure. Our current position on this balancing act is that we will release the name of the officer(s) involved in OIS incidents when the Commonwealth Attorney completes their review of the Criminal Investigation.

In summary, an OIS is thankfully an uncommon event. However, we take such incidents very seriously and handle them with the utmost of care and concern, starting with the families of both the decedent and the officer(s) involved. We meticulously investigate both the criminal and the internal aspects of the incident, and forward the criminal investigation in its entirety to the Commonwealth’s Attorney for their prosecutorial review. It is not uncommon in today’s environment of addressing public trust in government that sometimes even the FBI reviews the case files to make a preliminary assessment. Ultimately, we study the entirety of every such case and apply “lessons learned” as we train our police to best serve our community. This is a serious business we’re in, and we hold human life up as the most precious thing we’re sworn to protect. Our community deserves nothing less.