Community involvement will be central to incoming Charlottesville Police Department chief Michael Kochis’s plans to address the myriad issues the department faces, Kochis said at a press conference Tuesday.
Kochis will be the first permanent chief in more than a year, after being approved Monday night by the city council. The salary range for the position is between roughly $91,000 and $196,000, according to a city police chief recruitment brochure.
“At the end of the day, that’s why we’re here, is to involve the community,” Kochis said.
The department faces several challenges. Gun violence is up across the area—city police responded to 162 calls of shots fired between April and October, and Albemarle County police reported a 15% increase in gun violence compared to the three-year average.
A shooting occurred two days before the city council approved Kochis as the new chief. Police have declined to offer details, except to say the victim had a non-life threatening self-inflicted injury.
CPD is also missing 27% of its force: ideally, it would have 110 sworn officers and currently has 80. That number itself is down from 120, Captain Tony Newberry told The Daily Progress in October.
Add that to a $10 million lawsuit against the city from the city’s former police chief, Rashall Brackney. Brackney’s lawsuit says her termination in September 2021 was due to racial and gender discrimination; the city says it fired her because she was an ineffective leader.
For Kochis, Charlottesville’s gun crime issue is hardly unique. According to the Gun Violence Archive, an independent non-profit, there have been more than 41,000 gun-related deaths so far in 2022. In 2021, there were roughly 45,000 such deaths.
“Charlottesville is dealing with a lot of the similar issues that a lot of communities are,” Kochis said.
To get to the bottom of it, Kochis said, the department needs to find out where the guns are coming from and who is bringing them. Department leaders need to understand how Charlottesville residents want to be policed and pair that with data, he said.
“We’re not gonna do it all on our own. We can go in there and arrest people, but that’s not going to solve the issue,” Kochis said.
Just what Kochis thinks would solve the issue remains unclear. During a police candidate forum on Nov. 28, Kochis said he reduced calls for service on one block in Warrenton—where he is currently chief—from 160 to one between July and November after developing a plan with people who lived on that block. He did not detail the plan.
Poor communication between police departments and residents has exacerbated the problem. Last Saturday, University of Virginia police released a statement saying a suspect had fled after a Saturday night shooting near UVa student apartments.
About 40 hours later, Charlottesville police released their only statement on the incident so far, saying they “quickly” determined the victim had suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Kochis said he couldn’t speak to that particular incident, but that transparency and collaboration across jurisdictions mattered to him.
“We’re not going to keep up with social media,” Kochis said. “But it’s important for us to communicate with the public efficiently and accurately.”
Kochis has already begun to meet with other local law enforcement, like the Albemarle County sheriff. He said he had intended to talk with Tim Longo, UVa’s police chief, until a scheduling conflict arose.
Kochis also filled a number of vacancies during his roughly three years with the Warrenton Police Department, in part through the development of a strategic plan, he said.
“Recruiting isn’t a one-off thing. It’s not just a table at a job fair,” Kochis said. For him, it’s critical that the department portray the right image—not of a SWAT team kicking down someone’s door, but of an officer tying a kid’s shoe, he said.
Regarding Brackney’s claims of discrimination, Kochis said he found the allegations serious. He met Brackney during last week’s forum and had a “cordial” conversation with her.
“I’m not going to pass judgment on her or any of that,” Kochis said. “I will say that accusations of racism within not only a police department, but any government entity or any position of trust, should be taken very seriously.”
Kochis’s first day on the job will be Jan. 16, 2023.