Chris Perkins, who started his police career as a Roanoke officer 18 years ago and was appointed the city’s new police chief Wednesday, was touted by his job interviewers for understanding the city’s diverse community and for innovations to address crime.
“We are so fortunate to have someone like Chris Perkins who has come up through the ranks and knows the community,” said City Manager Chris Morrill during a news conference at police headquarters. “I know Chief Perkins is the right person to lead this organization.”
Perkins, 40, had been acting chief since his predecessor, Joe Gaskins, retired June 30 after a dozen years in the job. The new chief will lead the department of about 300 employees, including 243 sworn officers.
At times choked up, Perkins said he was honored to be named chief, and he hopes to exceed the expectations of the city and the officers he commands.
“I’m very lucky to be stepping into this role,” he said.
Perkins was selected from 71 applicants. City workers narrowed the field to six for video interviews. They brought three finalists to Roanoke, where they were interviewed by a panel of community representatives, a panel of city workers and Morrill.
Members of the community panel said Perkins’ commitment to improving Roanoke, and his innovations in addressing crime problems, made him the best candidate.
“I was really taken aback by his passion for the community,” said panelist Vivian Sanchez-Jones, a Hispanic counselor with Refugee and Immigration Services. “Not just the Hispanic community, but Roanoke.”
Perkins’ record of accomplishment and his presence in the community years before the police chief’s job became available showed panel members sincerity, Sanchez-Jones said.
“It told me he wasn’t just doing this for the job,” she said.
Another panelist, Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Roanokers can have a sense of security with Perkins in command of the department.
“The bottom line: We got the best man for the job,” she said. “He was stellar.”
Perkins’ work in patrol, vice, major crimes and as the police department accreditation manager earned him respect among his officers, some said.
“We’ve got a lot of trust in Chris,” said Lt. Todd Clingenpeel. “He’s proven himself in the 18 years that he’s been here.”
Clingenpeel and several other officers crowded into the back of the police community room to watch the city manager introduce Perkins as chief.
Perkins said he has several crime-fighting plans he hopes to unveil soon.
Already, he’s led the department to use social media to spread information about crime and prevention. He’s taken the department’s mobile command unit around the city, where officers have handed out information on domestic violence and crime prevention.
“I want to engage the community on a level we haven’t in the past,” Perkins said.
He also has organized community walks with city workers and officers who take to the streets block-by-block, addressing problems from littering to code violations.
“It’s unbelievable what you can see when you just get out of your car, get out of your office and make your way through a neighborhood,” Perkins said.
To address the issue of diversity within the department, he’s chosen a diverse group of recruits for the next police academy class, including six women, two of whom are Hispanic and two of whom are black, Perkins said.
“We are making those strides to be reflective of our community,” he said.
The chief also said he is reaching out to Hispanic Roanokers through churches to learn about crime that now goes unreported.
He can’t make the changes alone, he acknowledged, calling on Roanokers to take responsibility for what’s going on around them.
For instance, he said, the parent, coach or grandparent of a young person in trouble has more influence on that person’s behavior than police.
“Let’s find a way as a community to help that young person,” Perkins said. “Enforcement is not the answer.”
His long-term goal is to build a regional crime-tracking system that will allow officers to track lawbreaking as it occurs.
In the short term, he’ll be moving into the chief’s office, naming a deputy chief to fill his old position, and unrolling his new initiatives.
“I’m eager to get started,” he said.
Category: The New Chief