By Chris Teale (File photo)
City Manager Mark Jinks announced Monday that he appointed Michael Brown as the new Alexandria Police Chief, effective January 23.
Deputy Chief David Huchler had served as acting chief since Police Chief Earl Cook’s retirement on October 1, 2016. Brown has lived in Alexandria since 2010 with his wife, Kirsten Knapp, who is a city sheriff’s deputy.
Brown was selected following a rigorous nationwide and local search for candidates, conducted by the city with assistance from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The public is invited to meet Brown at a welcome reception on January 24 from 6 to 7 p.m., in the Vola Lawson Lobby of City Hall.
“Chief Brown’s remarkable career has put him at the forefront of neighborhood protection, community policing, traffic safety, strategic planning, and other areas of concern here and around the country,” said Jinks in a statement. “As an Alexandria resident, Chief Brown is already familiar with local issues and will help the Alexandria Police
Department continue to implement 21st-century national best practices fairly and effectively.”
Brown has nearly four decades of experience in law enforcement. He rose through the ranks of the California Highway Patrol, starting as a police officer in Los Angeles in 1977 and culminating in his appointment as state commissioner from 2004 to 2008. As commissioner, he led a law enforcement agency with approximately 7,900 sworn personnel, 3,100 civilian staff, more than 100 field offices and a budget of $1.8 billion.
From 2008 to 2009, Brown served as the deputy secretary for public safety for the State of California, advising then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on public safety issues and helping develop the state’s strategic highway safety plan.
Since 2010, Brown has served as director of the office of impaired driving and occupant protection at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, where he is responsible for the development and implementation of national traffic safety policy and best practices.
In an interview Monday, Brown said one of his major priorities is to continue to enhance community policing, where officers build relationships with residents.
“The effectiveness of a police department really depends upon the relationships you establish within the community,” he said. “That speaks to the police legitimacy and everything else, and also provides a vehicle for the community to communicate to us what their needs are. That’s incredibly important in policing today, and I hope to do that with the Alexandria Police Department.”
The department continues to emphasize community policing, especially through its Community Oriented Policing Section, where officers are assigned to specific areas of the city to build those relationships with residents and businesses.
Community policing remains a balancing act due to the need to fulfill calls for service, but Brown said it is possible to enhance.
“It’s not necessarily assigning additional people,” he said. “It’s almost a cultural thing that has to be embraced by the agency as a whole. The officers for example who are on regular patrol assignments can seize opportunities to establish relationships within the community. The other piece of that also is that it helps not only in terms of opening up communication, but also for recruiting.”
Brown said the diverse needs of the city could present a challenge, but he is hopeful of rising to it. In recent years, the Arlandria neighborhood particularly struggled with the influence of gangs, including the notorious Salvadorian gang MS-13. And last year, the city’s seven homicides were the most in Alexandria since 2007.
But with the help of the community, and continued engagement from department officials, Brown said progress can continue.
“One way, first of all, is to establish expectations for the po- lice department and its personnel in terms of creating those bonds with the community,” he said. “The other piece is to spend a lot of time with the various groups and associations and parts of the community so you can show another face on the law enforcement personnel. It’s not just going out and arresting people, it’s going out and trying to help them deal with their everyday lives.”
And Brown said he is determined to build a strong team within the police department, both with sworn officers as well as civilian and other support staff.
“When I talk about a team, I talk about a whole team,” Brown said. “That includes not only those that wear a badge and enforce the law, but also the support staff, the professional staff that helps get the job done day-in, day-out. I’ve often referred to law enforcement in a way as a family profession, and that everyone has to work together towards a common goal.”
Jinks said that Huchler and the rest of the police department’s senior leadership will continue to play a key role.
“I want to thank Chief Huchler for his service as acting chief, and for his more than 25 years of outstanding service so far in Alexandria,” Jinks said. “We look forward to working with him as he continues in the role of deputy chief. I am also grateful for the tireless dedication of the more than 400 men and women who work in sworn and civilian positions in the Alexandria Police Department to help keep our community safe every day.”