Lieutenant Drew Meyer took the helm in August as Blue Ridge District Commander for the Albemarle County Police Department (ACPD). The district is one of two that divide the county roughly between the southwest and northeast. The Blue Ridge district covers 515 square miles encompassing White Hall and Crozet and extends eastward to the southern “urban ring” around Charlottesville and all the way down to Scottsville. Meyer graduated from UVA and then served as an officer in the university’s police department for four years before transitioning to the ACPD.
“I was considering federal service when I was in school, and [working for UVA] seemed like a good way to get started by getting in the local side,” said Meyer. “Once I got a few years in, I knew that this was important, too.” He moved to the ACPD in 2016, beginning as a patrol officer on the evening shift and then working as a detective investigating fraud and other white-collar crimes. He has also been a diver and team leader on the county’s Underwater Recovery Team, and most recently he supervised the department’s Criminal Investigations Division.
As Blue Ridge District Commander, Meyer is also in command of the firearms training and field training teams. “Field training happens when officers first get out of the police academy or if we hire them from another department,” said Meyer. “They go into a program where they’re paired up with a training officer, and they ride two to a vehicle and learn our systems, our paperwork, our procedures, things they don’t learn in a regional academy. They have to have a training officer who is literally an arm’s length away at all times making sure that they’re safe, the people they are interacting with are safe, and they’re following procedure, doing things the right way.” For officers coming out of the police academy, the training is 16 weeks.
In terms of geography, the Blue Ridge district is twice as big as the Jefferson district, though the latter includes the densely populated area just north of the Charlottesville city boundary. “Historically, the Rt. 29 corridor, urban ring area has pushed a lot of the population and calls for service up north [in the Jefferson district],” said Meyer. “In the last few years, we are seeing more development on the south side of the city, so that is increasing calls for service in that area. The Avon Street corridor, the Wegmans development, all of that is filling in like crazy.”
Crozet has generally enjoyed very low crime statistics as compared to other areas of the county. “The biggest, repetitive concern we hear [for Crozet] is always traffic concerns,” said Meyer, “and it has a lot to do with how rapidly the area is expanding. Streets that have always been quiet neighborhood streets with not a lot of traffic are now turning into thoroughfares with a lot more traffic on them. Our traffic unit has done roughly nine speed studies recently in the Crozet, and they send information out to the patrol officers assigned to that area so they can hit those areas a little harder with enforcement.”
The second most frequent concern in Crozet is with car break-ins and thefts. “These are not unique to the Crozet area,” said Meyer. “Often we see a concentration of the same types of incidents in the same place in one area of the county, and then it’ll stop and start somewhere else. Sometimes it’s the same people, sometimes not. When we see a concentration in one area, then in addition to what’s being done on the day-to-day patrol level, we have our detectives look at all incidents that have occurred in the same timeframe and piece them together to find patterns.”
Meyer recalled an instance where six cars at Claudius Crozet Park had items stolen from them in one day, very likely by just one perpetrator, and said that preventative measures would help tremendously. “The majority of these are crimes of opportunity, and [perpetrators] are predominantly going into unlocked cars as opposed to breaking into cars,” he said. “They’re taking stuff that’s easy to see and grab and be in and out quickly. So don’t leave valuables in vehicles, and don’t leave the keys in them. That’s the other escalation—when they’re stealing stuff out of cars, they find the keys, and so then they take the car.”
Most of the county’s violent crime occurs in the urban ring around the city, and Crozet—especially as a growth area—has been largely spared from most types of criminal activity. (See chart above.) Despite representing about 10% of the county’s population, Crozet had only 4% of its total crimes against people (including violent crimes), and 3% of its total property crimes. There has been only one murder in Crozet in the last five years, a murder-suicide in 2020 on Rockfish Gap Turnpike near the Greenwood Grocery. Limited information was distributed by the ACPD at the time because of the sensitive nature of the incident, involving both a suicide and a juvenile.
To explain the terms on the chart, larceny is the unlawful removal of property (any kind of theft), while burglary is the unlawful entry into a structure (like a home or business) with the intent to commit a crime inside. Robbery is the theft of property or money that involves violence or the threat of violence. Stolen MV stands for stolen motor vehicle.
Chiefs Describe the State of Law Enforcement
Police chiefs from the city, county, and UVA participated in a panel discussion about community safety on August 9, hosted by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia in Charlottesville and open to the public. All three officials said that their organizations regularly partner with each other and with regional agencies to share information, a process that has been lacking in recent years. “This level of cooperation and collaboration is something our community hasn’t seen in almost a decade,” said ACPD Chief Sean Reeves.
The chiefs took questions from the audience and discussed current challenges their agencies face, from staffing to the nature of crime in their jurisdictions.
“When I was sworn in as chief of police last March, much like my counterparts, we were operating down 30 officers,” said Reeves. “That’s a significant number. As of this August, we’re hoping to be only two officers down. Albemarle had been the lowest paying jurisdiction for officers in our geographic region, but we worked with the Board of Supervisors to make our starting salary competitive, and we’re bringing a lot of talented folks on board, both certified and brand new.”
Reeves spoke about violent crime in Albemarle, noting that he’d seen an increase in juvenile gang violence. “We had three homicides last year, but when we start looking at the subjects in these crimes, we see that the offender and victim knew each other in our dataset,” he said. “Several were domestic violence-related homicides.” He acknowledged the important work of other first responders who triage victims of shootings. “We’re fortunate that [several of those] shootings that were attributed to an uptick in gang violence were not actually homicides, but they very well could have been had it not been for rescue squad staff and emergency room staff at the University of Virginia Hospital.”
Charlottesville Chief Michael Kochis said that of the five homicides the city has witnessed since January of this year, all five involved people who were acquainted with each other, not random acts of violence. “In the past we’ve seen upticks [in violent crime] that are drug-related or, say, robberies, but now a lot of these are beefs between kids,” he said. “There’s a significant amount of accessibility to firearms right now, more than I’ve seen in my 25 years. When we do a search warrant, years ago we might get a gun out of a house or car. Now, it’s every house, every car, multiple guns, they’re all over. So now you have the influx of firearms combined with youth settling beefs online, on social media, so [arguments] stay out there for much longer than they did when we grew up.”
An audience member asked about whether the closing of schools for a year due to the Covid pandemic has contributed to the increase in juvenile delinquency in this area. “As a parent of a teenager, I can’t say for sure that the uptick in crime resulted from that, but I can tell you that it [was] a disaster—the closing of schools,” said Kochis. “I know poverty is one root cause of crime in general, and when systems like the mental health system and the education system continue to fail these communities, specifically communities of color, then here we are. I think everybody at this table would agree we would love not to have to respond to mental health calls, but that’s not reality. Someone’s got to do it. And when these systems continue to fail these communities, other organizations [like police] have to step up and try to figure it out, and it’s messy.”
UVA Chief Tim Longo, who also served for 19 years with the Baltimore Police Department followed by 15 years as Charlottesville’s Chief of Police, also spoke about the school system’s role in community safety. “I don’t say this as a matter of criticism, but because I believe it—the biggest mistake we made was taking cops out of schools,” he said. Both the city and county school divisions removed School Resource Officers (SRO)—police officers who work in schools to prevent crime and de-escalate conflict—in the summer of 2020. State requirements for SRO’s include training in mediation and de-escalation techniques; alternatives to physical restraint; cultural diversity and implicit bias; working with students with disabilities, mental health needs, and substance abuse disorders; and child and adolescent development and brain research.
“We’re not [in schools] to be an upper hand, we’re not the heavy,” said Longo. “We were there, I think, to build relationships, to establish trust, to open up doors of communication. Talk to any now-adult who was in Charlottesville public schools and they remember Officer Wayne, because of the relationships he built and the influence he had on their lives. I do hope there will come a day when my colleagues are staffed appropriately enough to put those cops exactly back where they belong, engaging with young people. So that when they get to high school, they have a different perspective on what a police officer is, what they do, and how they influence their communities.”
Asked how to reduce guns in the community, the Chiefs stressed common sense. “As one example, you can go online and order the pieces of a gun and have them delivered to your house and build it,” said Kochis. “No serial number. That doesn’t make sense to me as a concept. Absent politics, I just don’t see why you should be able to do that.” He also emphasized responsible gun ownership. “People shouldn’t leave their guns in their cars. It drives me crazy when I hear that a crime was committed with a gun stolen from a car. If your gun is at home, keep it locked up. These are common-sense measures that I think most people would agree with.”
Chief Longo said he spoke to the Virginia General Assembly about guns in “sensitive spaces.” “I said, ‘Look, you’ve criminalized possession of a firearm here in your house—the state house and grounds—but you won’t criminalize it inside of the dormitory of a state college institution.’ The Supreme Court makes clear that the government can restrict the presence of that weapon and certain sensitive spaces, such as college dormitories, the John Paul Jones Arena, and Scott Stadium. So, a strong message would be that unless you have a legitimate law enforcement purpose for having a weapon in this space, we will criminalize your behavior.”
A woman who described herself as “a clergy person” said she knew a lot of others who are concerned with gun violence and wondered if there’s anything they can do to help. The Chiefs spoke about the importance of talking to residents in person on their front porches and sidewalks, about knowing the communities and even playing basketball with kids to build relationships. Chief Longo addressed the question more directly. “When bad stuff happens, some people come out with signs and stand in front of police stations [in anger] to express themselves, and that’s fine,” he said. “I’d love to open my drapes at the station after a crisis to see people praying for us, for the whole community in a calm and peaceful way. I think that’s what the clergy could do for us every day, not just in a crisis.”