You know you must be doing something right when the bad guys go out of their way to avoid your jurisdiction. The Chesterfield County Police Department, just outside of Richmond, Va., has developed a reputation for cracking down on crime. The combination of strict enforcement, top-notch training, improved gear and equipment, and tough judges that hand down equally tough sentences has earned the county the nickname of “Arresterfield” among the area’s criminals. In fact, the old jailhouse still retains the wooden stockade on its front porch and is conveniently located within sight of the new jail.
Chesterfield’s 500-plus officers patrol over 400 square miles and are responsible for the safety of more than 300,000 residents, and while most of the residents can be found concentrated in suburban neighborhoods, the majority of the county remains rural.
This is a small force for the fourth largest municipality in Virginia. They respond to over 200,000 calls for service and/or assistance each year. Statistically, a population this size would call for a force about 50 percent larger, but, with the help of several dozen volunteer officers backing up single-officer units on patrol, the county has been recognized as one of the safest and most secure communities of its size in the United States.
In 2007, the county sought a new service pistol and formed a committee to evaluate and test their choices. The key in the selection process was choosing the gun that would best fit the needs of the department and its officers, with special consideration paid to reputation, reliability, ease of training and maintenance.
Of the initial eight pistols considered, the CCPD narrowed their choices down to two, which were then test-fired by training officers extensively until the GLOCK 22 in .40 came out on top as the best choice. According to Training Officer/Range Master Carlos Gibson, the GLOCK’s consistent trigger pull greatly aided in training officers, as did its simple disassembly process.
The department-wide transition consisted of an eight-hour training day with only three hours spent in the classroom and five hours on the range. To help in the transition, the holster design was kept the same. GLOCK also provided the CCPD with armorer training to ensure the pistols ran reliably and would be easy to maintain.
I asked new recruits, more than half of whom arrived at the 31-week academy with no previous firearms experience, about their GLOCK pistols, and the response was uniformly good. It also helps that the CCPD has a very new training facility.
The Eanes-Pittman Public Safety Training Center is jointly managed to serve the needs of the police and sheriff’s departments as well as the county fire- rescue brigade. In addition to multiple classrooms, the facility boasts role-playing rooms, firearms simulation training areas, a forensic training lab, vehicle bay and a driving simulator.
The new, 25-yard small-arms firing range is divided into two bays for up to 20 officers each. The bays, which have moving, pneumatic-actuated targets, can be used simultaneously for separate training scenarios and range qualifications.
I was able to observe the MILO laser video simulation training facility in use. Corporal Steve Poe, the SWAT tactical training coordinator, explained how different video scenarios are presented to officers. With the help of infrared flashlights, the simulator also allows for low-light training, and a sight-mounted camera can diagnose trigger mechanics to improve an officer’s accuracy.
Needless to say, a training facility like this is in high demand. The CCPD coordinates with local agencies to provide training opportunities whenever possible. Previous classes include such varied topics as evidence collection, suicide prevention, interrogation, GLOCK maintenance, courtroom testimonies, autism awareness, searches and seizures, IED awareness, and SWAT team leader development.
With renewed attention to drug interdiction and terrorism, more and more agencies are working to establish coordinated responses with neighboring jurisdictions—and Chesterfield is no exception. The I-95 corridor, a major north-south smuggling route, runs right through the county, and while it is the primary responsibility of the Virginia State Police, some problems become the CCPD’s responsibility.
Chesterfield County PD has integrated its communication system with its neighbors, many of whom are also using GLOCK 22s, and set up task forces to coordinate specific activities, including SWAT team operations, regional pursuit training, railway interdictions and narcotics seizures. The county also manages several specialized enforcement teams, both undercover and in uniform, including a newly formed gang section under the criminal investigations division.
The 22-member SWAT unit takes the lead in more specialized situations, including active-shooter response, door breaching (mechanical and ballistic), WMD training, armored vehicle operations and high-risk warrants.
Patrol officers can also be assigned as school resource officers and receive specialized training to respond to active-shooter scenarios, resolve conflicts and utilize social media.
Chesterfield County also has over 11 miles of navigable waterways, including the James and Appomattox rivers, and a special marine unit is assigned to these areas.
All patrol officers are equipped and trained in the use of less-lethal gear and are provided with ASP collapsible batons and pepper spray. Currently, only the SWAT unit is equipped with Tasers, but their less-lethal response also includes using pepperball and 37mm and 40mm gas launchers.
Tough enforcement has led to several notable accomplishments, including a 32 percent increase in DUI arrests over a four-year period, which is in large part responsible for a 20 percent decline in alcohol-related traffic accidents. Coordinating with federal agencies, Chesterfield Police investigated the theft of $4.3 million in pharmaceuticals and subsequently helped arrest suspects in Florida. Chesterfield’s Multi-Jurisdictional Special Operations Group also assisted in a document fraud case in which criminal drug gangs were procuring real birth certificates to secure false identities and unlawful entry into the country.
Chesterfield County residents are welcomed and encouraged to learn about the police department and become involved through neighborhood watch, volunteer opportunities and a citizens and teen academy. A testament to the success of this outreach lies in the nearly 200 volunteers who routinely assist police and the more than 600 residents who have completed the citizen’s academy. Officers also work with area schools to provide child safety information and seminars.
The Chesterfield County Police Department has a long tradition of law enforcement. It is in fact home to Henricus, the second oldest English colony in America, which celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2011. With its adoption of GLOCK pistols and its new training facility, the county is well established to continue this tradition for a long time to come, maintaining its reputation as a safe, family-oriented, tough-on-crime community.