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Albemarle's new Chief of Police, discusses priorities in public conversation

Sean Reeves is setting himself some tough goals to reach in the next 100 days.

The newly sworn in chief of police for Albemarle County this week discussed his goals for his first 100 days in office, including the need for better officer training and the importance of mental health initiatives.

Reeves formally began his new role Tuesday. He is the sixth Albemarle County police chief and the first to begin his law enforcement career with the department. He’s also the first chief in department history to be both a military veteran and a member of the Latin American community.

Among Reeves’ priorities for his three months are launching the county’s long-requested body-worn camera program; modernizing the police department; and reframing the way the county police offer mental health services.

“Based on my conversation with officers from a year and a half ago, they quickly identified [mental health response]. [It’s] an issue decades in the making but the pandemic really made things hit a tipping point with the amount of time law enforcement was spending on mental health calls for service,” he said.

“With that in mind, I felt compelled to leverage my position as then-Deputy Chief of Police to organize community partners to come up with alternatives than just sending men and women with badges and guns to mental health calls for service,” he said in a community conversation held Thursday night.

Due to an increase in the demand for mental health services, Reeves said people sometimes spend days in custody while waiting for a spot in a treatment facility or hospital. After meeting with a variety of county officials, local law enforcement officials and mental health treatment partners, Reeves said there is an effort to change how police respond to calls for mental health service.

“Over the past year, the police department has been able to take a backseat to the Department of Social Services and been able to partner with [the Department of Social Services] with the goal of [social services] taking the lead on mental health officer service this summer,” Reeves said.

As part of the partnership, Reeves said the county police department plans to use funding formerly used for school resource officers to support a crisis response team or send officers with crisis intervention training.

The Charlottesville and Albemarle school divisions overhauled their approaches to school security in 2020 after the boards dropped the school resource officer program following nationwide protests about police brutality.

Reeves said the department is partnering with Region Ten to find an alternative to a hospital emergency room for people who are in a crisis but not in need of immediate medical attention.

“We have a very diverse group of leaders who can identify a problem, collaborate, come together and not worry about ego or who’s taking the credit and instead recognize a problem and say work together to fix it,” he said.

Among the things that Reeves said keeps him up at night are traffic crashes and injuries, which he said are among the highest in the state. Reeves said the department has determined that speeding, distracted driving and not wearing a seatbelt are part of the problem.

The department, he said, is considering placing speed cameras in school zones, which they are allowed to do by county ordinance. Two specific areas of concern are stretches of Rockfish Gap Turnpike, also known as U.S. 250, and areas of Hydraulic Road, which he said have high volumes of crashes and speed-related offenses.

“It’s a balancing act too, because we want to look at technologies that don’t overreach and that don’t abuse people’s privacy,” he said. “Finding out where that balance is between changing behaviors and keeping our roads safe while respecting privacy in a transparent way will involve engaging the citizens in these conversations before we make these decisions.”

Answering a question about the most prevalent forms of gun violence in the community, Reeves said that robberies are driving violent crimes and shots fired incidents are on the rise in the northern part of the county.

“We have one detective that’s assigned to the FBI Safe Street Task Force who is working very closely with our officers and investigators to consolidate those cases and looking for patterns,” he said. “We’re also working with our neighboring jurisdictions as well to see if it’s the same offender and to try to get the guns off the streets, as well as arrest and prosecute anybody that is committing violent crimes.”

Responding to a question about police substations in areas of the county, Reeves said that’s part of a long term plan involving the department’s geographic policing model, but isn’t in the immediate future because of staffing.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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