Taylor Elicegui ‘20
On Tuesday, March 19, Tommye Sutton, Chief of Police for the University of Virginia, hosted a breakfast meet and greet for the Law School community. Chief Sutton is new to UVA—he joined the UVA Police Department on August 1, after six years at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. He succeeded Mike Gibson, who retired after leading the Department for approximately thirteen years. Before becoming a police officer, Chief Sutton attended the University of Southern Mississippi, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in English. Chief Sutton also has a Masters in Criminal Justice from the University of Tennessee.
Chief Sutton went around the room and introduced himself to the students, faculty, and staff. I was very impressed; Chief Sutton was attentive and friendly to everyone, asking questions and genuinely getting to know people. Students came and went, partially attracted by the impressive breakfast spread at the event (Bodo’s, yogurt, bananas, and coffee galore). Chief Sutton was nice enough to sit down with me for a few minutes and discuss his plans for the University’s Police Department and his past experiences.
Chief Sutton wants the Police Department to have a clear identity and be known for collaboration with the community, excellence in service delivery, and community engagement. The nature of policing, Chief Sutton explained, inherently gives the police power. That power, though, comes from the citizens and they can it take back if they don’t trust the police. Chief Sutton raised the Department’s required qualifications for officer hiring. The Department now requires either a bachelor’s degree, four years of military service with honorable discharge, or four years of law enforcement experience. These requirements ensure that the officers will have had exposure to different types of people, cultures, opinions, and experience working in teams. The Department can teach officers the necessary police skills, but they can’t teach empathy or compassion. The new standards are meant to ensure the Department hires officers with the required people skills.
By improving relationships with the community, Chief Sutton hopes to reduce crime and improve safety. Chief Sutton wants UVA students to know members of the Police Department and be able to recognize them on sight. That way, if a student ever ends up in an emergency situation and needs help from the police, the student will already know the officer helping them. Chief Sutton thinks this increased familiarity will reduce, to a degree, the trauma inherent in any emergency situation.
The Department has several specific plans in place for emergency situations and practices those plans often. Chief Sutton told me that the Department has an active shooter plan that they practice every summer with the members of other law enforcement officers in the area. The Department wants to educate the community more about what to do in an emergency. If an emergency situation should occur, the Department intends to execute the plan as practiced. That way, citizens will have a better idea of what to expect and the officers will know how to respond. Additionally, at large events like football games and concerts, the Department sets up the same command post as it would during an emergency situation. By doing so, all of the law enforcement officers get to know each other and get used to working together—allowing them to work more effectively in an emergency situation.
Overall, I was very impressed with Chief Sutton and appreciated the opportunity to get to know him. Chief Sutton’s approach to policing—collaboration, service delivery, and community engagement—and his underlying values of empathy and compassion will serve the UVA community well.