You are on page 1of 4

As promised a couple weeks, this is the final newsletter article from me that youll have to endure.

Some
of the feedback Ive had over the time Ive had the privilege of serving with you is that I needed to
dumb it down a bit with these; I havent, I believe we have intelligent people who serve here and you
deserve to be treated as adults. Part of the goal of these newsletters is to share a vision, philosophy, and
strategies for contemporary policing, and to do that requires providing a sufficient foundation and
explanation. If it has served to inform, educate or entertain any of you, then Ive met my goal.

I wanted to take some time in this one to provide some history, and some explanation about why chiefs
behave the way they do. Lets start with the explanation.

Each and every chief has their own unique style, personality, likes and dislikes, etc. Ive worked with
some who absolutely have their favorites, and it influences their decisions on matters such as
promotions and discipline. All chiefs have their own unique leadership styles, none of which comport to
any single textbook definition of a particular style. Once, at a leadership class I attended over 25 years
ago, the instructor rattled off about a dozen particular styles, then concluded with, and then, theres
YOUR style. My personal leadership philosophy and style have been shaped by many, many mentors
and leaders that Ive admired, a few I despised, and plenty of examples of both things to do and not to
do. Still, like all humans, one doesnt get everything right.

For the first year or so I was here, an abundant number of employees were critical because I didnt do
things like my predecessor. Guilty as charged. Just because something worked for him, didnt mean it
would for me. Over the years that Ive been a chief, I developed a very strong belief that my job was to
develop an exceptional staff, educate and teach, inspire, and turn them loose to provide the leadership
throughout the organization. That IS different from anyone who believes they should be very hands on
and involved in every aspect of the organization. There isnt a right or wrongits just different. I never
liked being micro-managed, and Ive worked hard to not be a micro-manager myself. I always liked
having a voice in my organization, and so Ive tried to give folks at all levels a voice. I cant choose if folks
want to use that voice or not, but I can at least provide the opportunity, and I tried to do that.

A couple of times in my early evolution as a chief, I allowed myself to become quite close to members of
my staff, only to have issues arise that made that relationship challenging in the work context. This is
2

why I never came into this job to be anyones friend. Im not paid to be anyones friend; that doesnt
mean I cant nor shouldnt be friendly. Or respectful. But, I have not been overly social with anyone at
any rank here at NNPD so that it would never cloud my judgment about what needed to be done. This
is a very difficult and sometimes painful posture to maintain; where else but work, where we spend the
majority of our time, can we readily make friends? Even out in the community, over the years Ive
developed special radar making me a little skeptical about friends. Does this business owner really
want to be MY friend, or does he want to be friends with the Chief of Police? Some may argue this
borders on paranoia, but its allowed me to avoid many of the ethical challenges that some of my peers
seem to encounter sometimes.

The above paragraph may explain my on-duty persona, but it bears saying that this is pretty significantly
different from my off duty persona. Im a family guy, Im very social, Im an extrovert who enjoys the
company of others. I have a vast network of folks in and out of policing that I consider my friends, and I
value the ability to run into former colleagues at a conference and pick right up where we left off years
prior. I have a circle of college buddies that I cherish and really enjoy periodic trips to a B1G Ten football
game to reunite. But at work.I try my best to shield my off the job persona, so that I can be serious and
focused on the mission we have, and always try to set a positive example of demeanor and conduct. In
my personal life, Ive had people say, I cant believe youre a police officer. This tells me two things:
1), outside of policing, people just dont realize that we are like any other profession, comprised of
individuals who dont all think or act alike 2) Im doing ok separating these 2 personas.

So, enough about why chiefs act like they do. For those whom my conduct has been a disappointment,
Im sorry.

There are a handful of folks who work here who were engaged in the business of policing way back when
I first donned the badge in 1977. The technology has changed vastly: portable radios were only a few
years in existence for police officers, and the senior cops didnt want to be bothered hauling them
around. The revolving bubble lights mounted on a rack on the roof included a siren speaker that
doubled as an external radio speaker, so that when we were going to be out of the car for an extended
period, we could switch it over to hear the radio. I was a new breed, college educated, who came to
work on day one with this brand new thing called concealable body armor; the vests were heavy, stiff,
and could barely stop the rounds that we carried. Speaking of ammo, in my career Ive carried .38
Specials, .357 Magnum, 9mm and now 45mm. I learned early on the psychological value of a long gun,
particularly the 12 ga. Shotgun, when I racked it and aimed it at a home-invasion suspect who the
booking officers later told me messed his pants when I capture him with that gun. I feel blessed that the
people who have shot at me have never hit their target, and double blessed that I didnt have to take a
life, as prepared to do so as any officer needs to be.

I vividly recall the first 2 or 3 people who died in my arms, often at horrible car crashes. I remember the
first time I broke an old mans ribs giving him CPR, and the medic who yelled at me, If you DONT do it,
hes going to die, so keep going. The year I was an investigator at a large Medical Examiners Office, I
saw more death than one should see in a lifetime, from homicides and suicides to accidental deaths to
SIDS babies even to middle aged folks suffering from anorexia who looked like a skeleton with skin
3

stretched over it. I think I really came to understand the need for humanity in that job, as well as how to
minimize the chances for internalizing such tragic scenes that played out weekly for me. Alas, none of
the dumped body calls that I handled ended up being Jimmy Hoffa (he disappeared in the county I
worked in).

My first police chief job was at a tiny, part-time agency; I dont think Ive ever worked as hard in my life.
When I took the 2nd chief job, the luxury of being able to just sit and think before making decisions was
wonderful. It only took a few months before I had my first really big disciplinary situation, an officer who
had a pattern of pulling over drunken females and giving them the option of his backseat with or without
handcuffs, if you know what I mean. I learned things from that situation, how to ensure that the
integrity of the agency came before any individual, and that we are also obligated to protect our
profession from the potential of such rogue cops just moving from agency to agency.

As a very young chief, I earned a lot of scars battling it out with a union local that the statewide union
described as out of control. Once youve had efforts to humiliate and diminish your ability to lead and
survive it, your sense of what is a crisis takes on a whole new perspective. I also learned that after
youve left an organization, some of the people who were your worst adversaries may come to
appreciate you and what you were trying to do, long after youve gone.

Most of the time, I had the good fortune of succeeding really ineffective or disliked chiefs; it is easier to
get buy-in with that backdrop. Once I followed a true icon in our profession, and learned how difficult it
is to be measured against a premier chief. I have also learned that city managers come in all flavors, too,
and Ive worked with some really good ones and some really bad ones. I have to say, one reason
Newport News remains a great finishing spot is the quality of leadership from the city managers office
locally.

Ive never endorsed any political candidates, nor made campaign contributions, to ensure that it
wouldnt in any way reflect negatively on my employer. I have always said, Theres plenty of time to do
that when I retire, but for the sake of the chiefs that I will now be serving in my new capacity, Im likely
to still be quite discreet. In fact, Ive worked in one of the most ultra-conservative cities in the US, and
Ive worked in extremely liberal communities, and everything in between, and my practice of not
wearing politics on my sleeve has allowed me to keep politics separated from police service. None of
you will ever know how often Ive drawn a line in the sand with an elected official who wanted to
encroach into police operations; the politics stops at my office, thats what chiefs ought to do.

I also subscribe to the belief that a leader shouldnt wear their religion on their sleeve, either. Again, as a
chief, its important that I have the ability to work with pastors, priests, Imams and rabbis and shamans
on an equal basis. Im comfortable enough trying to live my personal spiritual values without having to
talk about them. I have shared with many pastors over the years that I see a strong parallel between
policing and ministry; both are callings and involve serving a community that may not always appreciate
or adhere to our mission.

I want to reiterate that my timeline for retiring has been completely my own, is completely independent
from this agency, its employees, and the community at large. Newport News has been a wonderful
4

place to serve, and by all accounts, would have continued to be a wonderful place to serve for me. The
best time to depart is when there isnt a crisis, a scandal, or having the community and especially having
ones boss clamoring for your departure. Yes, were having a staffing crisis, but so are the majority of
agencies in the US. Yes, we always have someone under the gun for some transgression, but when you
have 600 employees, there always will be employee issues to deal with. All in all, this is a squared away
place, one that you all should be proud of. Our relationships out in the community and the level of trust
that Newport News has for its police is so much better than many of our sister agencies across the
country; you all are the plank holders for that accomplishment.

A final suggestion for NNPD members: in addition to whatever worthwhile causes you support, like your
church, Scouting, hobbies, etc., dont forget about the Newport News Police Foundation. There is a very
hard working board that is constantly prepared to invest back into our agency and its people. At some
level, the folks who work at NNPD need to show appreciation and support back to the Foundation. Just
think, if every single employee who works at NNPD would simply donate $38 per paycheck (tax
deductible) to the Foundation, it would collectively raise about $60,000 a year! If folks who earn over
$60,000 a year doubled that, it would begin to approach over $100,000 per year. What a statement that
would make for the Foundation Board when they ask employers across the city to donate to support the
police officers. There are very, very few employees at NNPD who havent been touched in a very
positive way by the contributions we receive from the Foundation, and so it is appropriate to show
appreciation with some contributions of our own.

As I assume a new chapter in life, leaving behind my many years in policing, I want to extend my support
for each and every one of you now and into the future. I am always fiercely loyal to the communities
and agencies Ive served with, and will be so for NNPD. If I can be of assistance at any time in the future,
please dont hesitate to call on me. Again, thank you sincerely for the great privilege of serving with you,
stay focused, stay safe, and be well.

Richard W. Rick Myers, Chief of Police