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New Charlottesville police chief says UVa education will guide his work

Charlottesville’s new chief of police, Michael Kochis, says the role involves striking a balance among three groups: the community, the political environment and the rank and file of the department. Kochis, who is leaving his post as chief of the Warrenton Police Department, will join CPD on Wednesday.

Some Charlottesville residents will argue that there is also a fourth group, one in blue and orange. As a recent University of Virginia graduate, though, Kochis said he is familiar with the inseparable relationship between the school and the city of Charlottesville.

In May 2022, Kochis graduated in the first class of UVa’s Master of Public Safety program, which was added to the School of Continuing and Professional Studies in 2021.

“The classes I took are real-world classes,” Kochis told The Daily Progress. “For example, there’s a stewardship class in the program, and we had to build a police department from the ground up for everything, from creating a mission and vision to a strategic plan. It’s pretty intense.”

Bryon Gustafson, the program’s director, said the program was designed to foster thought and agency leadership skills among working public safety professionals. Most students who enroll in the program already have 15 to 20 years of experience, as Kochis did when he joined. The program offers five core courses that teach students how to build a public safety agency and continue growing their leadership skills, Gustafson said.

“Our Creating and Sustaining Community Dialogue course is really about identifying and working with stakeholders, listening, learning to ask open-ended questions and creating shared understanding. That one is very community-specific” Gustafson told The Daily Progress. “Another course, Transformational Leadership and Changing Times, has some of the same topics but really looks at the organization [students] are in to challenge students to understand the people that they’re working with.”

Kochis said he decided to enroll in the program because the days of law enforcement leadership without higher education are over.

“I think the expectation [from] our communities is that the police commanders or police executives continue to educate themselves on very complex issues of policing,” Kochis said.

Kochis began his higher education journey during his military career when he received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from Columbia Southern University. He returned to school in 2017 and completed a one-year certified public manager program at George Washington University. One year later, Kochis graduated in Session 274 of the FBI National Academy, which uses a curriculum accredited by UVa.

Kochis ditched the civilian lifestyle when he enlisted in the Army, becoming a paratrooper straight out of high school. After several years of jumping out of planes for the military, Kochis launched his law enforcement career as an officer with the Roanoke Police Department.

After Roanoke, Kochis was an officer with the Alexandria Police Department, where he spent 17 years – the longest stint of his career, he said. In addition to serving as an Alexandria police officer, Kochis was a narcotics investigator, homicide detective sergeant and lieutenant commander who oversaw patrol operations, criminal investigations, vice and narcotics and administrative options.

Kochis said he still remembers one of his first visits to Charlottesville in 2017 to attend the graduation of a cohort from the local adult drug court. He said he was impressed with the program and the people in it who seemed to care about those recovering from drug dependence.

“The other thing about Charlottesville is it’s a community that really wants to be involved with its police department,” Kochis said. “I know there’s been a lot that’s gone on in the past, like 2017, that did a lot of damage. I understand that. But I really think there’s an opportunity to start building the same relationships back and working towards moving forward.”

The Unite the Right rally in 2017 over the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments led to the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer and several injuries in a riot downtown. The violence also served as a catalyst in the community, not only sparking a review of the area’s ties to and legacy of racism but the area’s law enforcement agencies, which many have said are necessarily a part of those ties and that legacy.

CPD has not had a chief of police since former City Manager Chip Boyles fired Police Chief RaShall Brackney in September 2021, citing low morale in the department based on survey data from department employees. In an op-ed published in The Daily Progress on Sept. 17, 2021, Boyles said he fired Brackney because he was concerned that at least 10 leaders said they would leave the department because of Brackney’s leadership. Boyles said he felt he had to make a “hasty” decision to save the department.

The termination came a few months after Brackney ordered an internal affairs review of the former CPD SWAT Team, which revealed discriminatory messages and behaviors. The review resulted in the firing and relocation of four former SWAT Team members before the team was dissolved in the summer of 2021.

Brackney, who was hired in 2018, filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city with the Western District of Virginia in June 2022. The suit lists 11 causes of action including race, color and gender discrimination; tortious interference with employment contract; unlawful retaliation; violation of Virginia’s whistleblower statute; violation of the right to freedom from government discrimination; defamation; business conspiracy; violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act; and violation of the right to Freedom of Information.

Brackney did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Progress.

Kochins, meanwhile, said he will be spending his first days in his new post meeting with community stakeholders to build relationships and assess community expectations.

“The first ninety days will be identifying [stakeholders] and building relationships, so when we get to the end of those ninety days we have a group of stakeholders that can sit down and work on developing specific strategic priorities for the police department,” Kochis said. “Stakeholders are everyone from the patrol officer on the street to the city manager to City Council to local community groups to community activists. They’re those who have a stake in the community, within the city of Charlottesville.”

Kochis and his family moved to Charlottesville on the first weekend of the year.


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