Virginia Officials Give Positive Review of Chapman
Former colleagues say Montgomery police chief candidate is committed to community policing
The candidate to be Montgomery County’s next police chief gets high marks from former colleagues in Virginia, despite a rocky departure from her last job as a chief this year.
Virginia officials who worked with Tonya Chapman closely over the past three decades say she has demonstrated effective strategies for community policing, putting an emphasis on youth engagement, improving the juvenile justice system and reducing violent crime, among other accomplishments. All believe she is ready to lead Montgomery’s 1,300-officer police force after commanding a force slightly larger than half that size previously.
Chapman became Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s nominee for police chief in mid-July after Takoma Park’s Antonio DeVaul withdrew his name from consideration.
Chapman is expected to interview before the County Council after it returns in September from a monthlong recess. The council will then vote on Chapman’s nomination, with five votes needed for confirmation.
Chapman, according to her Linkedin profile, was a captain in the Arlington Police Department in Virginia from 1989 to 2011 before becoming deputy police chief in Richmond, where she worked for three years.
She was then appointed by then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to be Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. She served in that position from January 2014 until February 2016, when she took the job in Portsmouth.
Chapman, who is black, exited Portsmouth in March due to what she says was “systemic racism” within the police department there and the unwillingness of lower-level officers to take direction from a black woman, according to a statement she released to the meeting following her resignation.
Portsmouth City Manager Lydia Pettis-Patton, according to local media outlets in Portsmouth, said Chapman’s departure was “an employment issue based solely on concerns with leadership of the department.”
Virginia state Sen. Louise Lucas (D), whose legislative district includes Portsmouth, including Portsmouth, said in an interview Thursday that she knows Chapman professionally and personally and that she was highly regarded by members of Virginia’s legislature.
“When she came to the city of Portsmouth, she was instrumental in dealing with violent crime issues. Homicides decreased. She was one of the best police officers that we’ve had here in the city of Portsmouth,” Lucas said.
Lucas wrote in a July 26 letter of recommendation to Elrich that Chapman was instrumental in mentoring the city’s youth and implementing several “21st century policing initiatives.”
“Chief Chapman was a strong leader of the police department and made inroads towards building trust between the community and the police department. She led by example by getting out in the community during her community walks and other initiatives,” Lucas wrote.
Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore said he met Chapman when she became police chief three years ago. He praised her for regularly meeting with community members during activities such as “coffee with a cop.”
“We often hear the catch phrase ‘community policing.’ She was in the community on a regular basis developing those relationships,” he said.
Moore said Chapman also made shortening emergency response times a priority during her tenure. He said Chapman’s departure was met with frequent protests at city council meetings for several weeks after she left, with some meetings so packed that people had to be turned away.
“This is the first time I can recall a chief leaving, where the majority of the population was upset,” he said.
Moore said he regularly spoke with Chapman, who was encountering resistance from some members of the force.
“A few officers were being resistant to the change she was trying to bring within the department. Some people are just not susceptible to change,” he said.
The largest police force Chapman has overseen was in Richmond, with about 750 officers. Moore said Chapman is ready to make the jump to Montgomery County’s 1,300-member force.
“She was always visible. Whether you have to supervise 250-plus people [in Portsmouth] or 1,300, she’ll use the same manner of supervising and getting out in the community,” he said.
Steve Drew, the chief of police in Newport News, Va., said last week that he worked with Chapman during her years in Richmond about six years ago. He said her community walks and regular interactions with the public were key to implementing better community policing.
Drew said Chapman can change the culture within a police department — something Elrich has said is essential and one of the reasons he preferred a candidate from outside Montgomery County. But Drew acknowledged that could be challenging.
“That is hard for any chief. When you make change, you first have to do an assessment of what that is. What is it your business leaders and faith leaders want? And you have to talk to officers,” he said.
Drew said Chapman will be a good fit in Montgomery County, but not everyone will be happy with changes that take place.
“It’s not always gonna be popular. Ten percent are gonna love what you do, 10% are gonna hate it. And there’s that 80% in the middle,” he said.
Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said last week that he has known Chapman since he was a prosecutor in Arlington County and she was an officer who regularly participated in drug busts.
Moran said Chapman was the type of officer who walked city streets and engaged with neighbors to promote public safety.
As deputy secretary, Moran said, Chapman was responsible for implementing body-worn cameras for state law enforcement officers, closed one of the commonwealth’s correctional facilities and helped Virginia achieve one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country.
“She took the lead on those issues. With her experience of her work on the street, she provided invaluable experience on how we should proceed,” he said.
The facts over why Chapman resigned from her Portsmouth job remain in dispute.
Following Chapman’s departure from Portsmouth, Lucas called for a no-confidence vote of Pettis-Patton, the city manager, by Portsmouth’s city council because of her handling of the former chief’s departure, and because Pettis-Patton did not give Chapman a reason.
Lucas also requested an investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division into allegations of racism within the police department. Officials from the Justice Department could not be reached on Thursday for comment.
Pettis-Patton did not respond to multiple messages left for her from July 29 to Aug. 2. City Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas referred questions about Chapman to Pettis-Patton because the police chief reports directly to the city manager.
When asked about Chapman, a representative from Portsmouth’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police said no one in the organization of active duty members would have positive comments.
The police union released a statement on March 26, saying that despite accusations, the organization never called for a no-confidence vote of Chapman wanted to have a “good working relationship” with her.
Council members speak
Tom Hucker was one of several Montgomery County Council members to meet one on one with Chapman on Tuesday. He said the two spoke for an hour. Their conversation included a discussion of Chapman’s exit from Portsmouth, but Hucker said there are many unknowns about the situation.
“Without any more detail from her employers in Portsmouth, we were limited in what there was to talk about,” he said.
Elrich said Friday on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU that Chapman’s resignation from Portsmouth was “interesting, but maybe shouldn’t be surprising.”
“She was the first black female police chief in Virginia. She came into a force that, I’d say, had a lot of issues. Sometimes somebody’s who’s a change agent and is trying to deal with racial issues isn’t always welcome,” he said on the show.
Hucker said he was impressed overall with Chapman’s approach to community policing and other issues. He said she has several innovative ideas for how to ensure the community meets law enforcement officers informally.
“She talked about the need for police to be in schools and be visible in elementary schools and have events that engaged high school students,” he said. “[She wants to] organize an event for teens centered on traffic stops, how to behave if you’re involved in a traffic stop, how officers look at a traffic stop and other examples.”
Hucker said Chapman’s emphasis on outreach to youth and her desire to make better use of the police cadet program, for those with a high school diploma, will help with the department’s declining recruitment numbers.
“She saw it as a way to have a high functioning department and work with young people throughout the stages of their education,” he said.
Council member Evan Glass said he met with Chapman and the two had a “thorough and thoughtful discussion about her 30 years of service and her views on leadership and safety and accountability.”
Council President Nancy Navarro said council members have met informally with Chapman, but there still has not been an “official transmittal” of Chapman’s name from the county executive’s office. The transmittal, Navarro said, is a legal formality needed before the council as a body can schedule an interview with Chapman.
Ohene Gyapong, a spokesman with the county executive’s office, said an “official send date” has not yet been set for the transmittal.
Navarro said she did not meet with Chapman personally on Tuesday, but hopes to at some point. She said she hopes to hear Chapman’s view on community policing and what her strengths are. Navarro also said she hopes to learn more about the terms of Chapman’s departure from Portsmouth.
“Those have been some of the concerns council members have expressed, and I have them as well,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org