2017-11-29 / Featured / Front Page

New police chief to bring ‘fresh eyes’


During a press conference last Tuesday at the historic courthouse, county officials introduced Chesterfield’s new police chief, Jeffrey S. Katz, pictured, who has served as chief of the Boynton Beach, Florida, police department for the past four years. 
ASH DANIEL During a press conference last Tuesday at the historic courthouse, county officials introduced Chesterfield’s new police chief, Jeffrey S. Katz, pictured, who has served as chief of the Boynton Beach, Florida, police department for the past four years. ASH DANIEL Was it another necessary step toward dismantling the county’s “good ol’ boy” network? Or a slap in the face to the two long-serving Chesterfield police officers who had applied to lead the department?

Both sentiments quietly bounced around last week as members of the region’s law enforcement community, county police officers and other employees, elected officials and citizens gathered outside the historic courthouse for the introduction of Jeffrey S. Katz as the county’s new police chief.

Following a national search, the Board of Supervisors selected Katz, 45, who has been chief of the Boynton Beach, Florida, police department for the past four years, over three other finalists – including internal candidates Daniel Kelly and Christopher Hensley.

Kelly, a 30-year veteran of the Chesterfield Police Department, became interim chief when Thierry Dupuis retired Sept. 1. Hensley had led the department’s investigations bureau until he was chosen as acting deputy chief of support services.

“I realize it is very scary to go away from what you know, especially when you are part of such a well-run organization. But all organizations can improve and sometimes it takes a set of fresh eyes to realize how much you can improve,” said Dorothy Jaeckle, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, during last week’s press conference.

That philosophy appears to have guided many of the county government’s recent major hiring decisions.

The Board of Supervisors last year chose an external candidate, former Henrico County Deputy County Manager Joe Casey, to succeed the retiring Jay Stegmaier as county administrator. Since then, Casey has brought in Andrew Gillies from Texas and James Worsley from Georgia to lead the Planning and Parks and Recreation departments, respectively.

In an interview following Katz’s introduction, however, Jaeckle cautioned against reading too much into the board’s decision to go outside the local police department to find its new chief.

“I said from the beginning that we were going to select the best candidate, whether that was inside or outside, and we would not know who that was until the end of the process,” she said.

Jaeckle noted that Dupuis was promoted from within the department in 2007. His predecessor, Carl Baker, was Chesterfield’s first police chief selected from outside the county.

“I think sometimes it will be natural to promote [an] internal [candidate] and other times it will be external,” she added. “When you think we’ve had the same person in command for 10 years, maybe this is the time to bring in somebody who looks at things differently.”

While nobody would speak about it on the record, some members of the local law enforcement community have questioned why the Board of Supervisors would change the direction of a police department that is widely regarded as one of the best in Virginia.

As law enforcement agencies across the country have struggled in recent years with accusations of excessive force and institutional racism, the Chesterfield police largely avoided high-profile incidents and built positive relationships with members of an increasingly diverse community.

The department, which has more than 500 sworn officers and 100 civilian personnel, handles more than 200,000 calls for service annually.

According to sources with knowledge of its deliberations, both Kelly and Hensley enjoyed considerable support within the committee formed in June to recommend police chief candidates to the Board of Supervisors.

In addition to Jaeckle and Casey, the committee included Commonwealth’s Attorney Billy Davenport, local pastor Wilson Shannon and Douglas Middleton, the former police chief in Henrico.

But Leslie Haley, vice chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, said board members had “significant conversations” with county police officers and community members “who told us we needed to do a national search.”

“We really respect what our rank-and-file officers were telling us,” she added.

The county hired a search firm, Springsted Waters, and conducted four public meetings for citizens to provide input into the police chief recruitment. It also received hundreds of responses to an online survey.

That was a 180-degree departure from the way it handled the search for Baker’s successor in 2007, when the Board of Supervisors accepted the committee’s recommendation to consider only internal candidates.

This time, Casey said, the community and police personnel played “vital roles” in helping the board select the new chief.

“I think it’s hard to navigate the process. I don’t think there’s a set way to do it,” Haley said. “What you have to do is weigh the fact that there were so many comments we got that were very positive about us having a great police department. The known is always easier than the unknown. “Maintaining the status quo … you have to take that into consideration, recognizing that people have had such great interactions with our police department. We also have to make sure people understand we’re not abandoning that – that the culture is one we want to keep.”

Katz, who has 28 years of law enforcement experience, overhauled the troubled culture of Boynton Beach’s police department and instituted several procedural reforms during his tenure as chief.

He inherited a department in which officers had been accused of conducting illegal searches, trafficking in narcotics, falsifying police reports and violating citizens’ civil rights.

In June, following an FBI investigation that Katz requested, two current and two former Boynton Beach officers were indicted for a 2014 beating of motorists that was caught on video.

“A lot of guys had been there for a long time, and a lot of the policies, procedures and accountability all needed to be revisited and updated,” Boynton Beach City Manager Lori LaVerriere told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in August. “People naturally resist change, even if it’s good change, but he’s been very committed to making a difference.”

“He cleaned house and gave the department renewed respect,” former city commissioner David Merker said in the same story.

Jaeckle insisted that won’t be Katz’s assignment when he begins working in Chesterfield on Jan. 2.

Katz seemed to acknowledge that in his public remarks last week, assuring county police personnel that he doesn’t intend to come in and “make sweeping changes.”

“There are things about the Chesterfield Police Department that make it a unique institution. Institutions have traditions, things that make it special,” he said. “It is not an agency in crisis, so my approach will be to reflect my responsibilities with collaboration and respect and honor of that tradition.” ¦

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