Retiring Albemarle County Police Chief Steve Sellers was pleased to see his top officer, Major Ron Lantz, elevated to replace him in the post at the end of May.
The two men, both Crozet residents, met early in their careers in Fairfax County. In 1999, Sellers was Lantz’s first sergeant as a street patrol officer. They were together six months and then moved on to different assignments.
After 25 years in Fairfax, Lantz was eligible to retire. He had risen to the rank of captain and commanded the Fair Oaks district, population 125,000, one of eight in Fairfax, and had responsibility for a force—155 men—larger than the Albemarle police department. But he heard of the opening in Albemarle under Sellers and he applied.
Lantz had been born in Fairfax, where his dad was a police officer, too, but his dad was from West Virginia and when it came his chance to retire he took his family home to Elkins in the mountain state. Lantz began his education at Glenville State College and finished at the University of Charleston.
He always thought he would be a policeman, he said, and in high school he was given the nickname Trooper because his friends all expected him to join the West Virginia State Police. But the pay was better in Virginia. His brother joined the sheriff’s office in Arlington County, but Lantz went to Fairfax because of the even higher pay scale.
Lantz said his top priority is to consolidate Sellers’ institution of the geo-policing concept, which keeps officers in geographic territories and encourages them to get to know its residents.
“Geopolicing helps officers connect with the community,” explained Sellers. “You know each other by face.” The concept demonstrated its power recently when the department circulated a photograph of a wanted man and members of the Crozet Safety Corps promptly identified him.
Fairfax had a similar concept in the Public Service Area model, a neighborhood beat, and Lantz had experience with it at Fair Oaks.
“Newer officers embrace it sooner than older ones,” Sellers said. “Some of the older ones are now changing. It has more responsibility with it and accountability with it.”
“We’re going to keep growing it,” said Lantz. “Part One was creating districts. Part Two is building the capacity [of the department to staff it] and Part Three, eventually, is decentralization. We’d love to see a station in Crozet.”
The other priority Sellers is passing on is traffic safety. “We’re losing too many people on highways,” said Lantz. We need better enforcement and education. People aren’t wearing seat belts. Many deaths are preventable. This has always been one of Chief Seller’s emphases.”
The police department added seven officers last year, but will add none this year. The department has 60 patrol officers and 139 employees in total, counting detectives and other support personnel.
“We need 11 more officers to go to squad-based schedules,” said Lantz. In squad organization, 20 officers work together every day in the same sector, under the same supervision, and have the same days off. Lantz led a squad-based district in Fairfax.
“There’s no use in reinventing the wheel,” he said. “We’ve been working toward it for more than a year now.”
Sellers said he told County Executive Tom Foley when he was hired that he would do the job for five years and then he intended to retire. He extended his service by another six months while the decision over replacing him was being made.
“I’ve learned many things from Chief Sellers,” said Lantz. “He’s a very analytical leader. He thinks things through. I learned his best trait: he’s a caring leader. He’s genuine and I learned what that means to an employee and getting them to follow up.”
“Ron is also very compassionate for the community,” said Sellers, “and he’s very approachable. It’s not every day that a chief can retire and hand over the organization with no worries. I will sleep well in June. No more pagers going off in the middle of the night.”
Sellers said he’s staying put in Crozet. “I came here to retire. I built my house here.”
He has a woodworking shop and a longstanding hobby of furniture-making. He worked as a cabinetmaker before going into law enforcement. He also likes taking his Harley-Davidson motorcycle out on local roads and he has a travel agenda that will likely take him around the country.
For his part, Lantz said, “I love it here.” His wife teaches at Monticello High School and his daughter also works for the county. His entertainment is “being outside, hunting and fishing and hiking.”