PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The top three candidates for the Portsmouth police chief position have been revealed and now the city manager will study citizen feedback before making a final choice.
On Thursday, Portsmouth held a community forum to allow residents to “interview” candidates for the police chief position in the I. C. Norcom High School Auditorium. The three finalists were not known prior to the forum.
The chief candidates include:
- Former Petersburg Police Chief John Dixon III
- Portsmouth Assistant Chief Renado Prince
- Francisco Williams, captain with the Jersey City Police Department.
The three men were selected as finalists among 22 total applicants, according to City Manager Angel Jones.
“I think they could do the job,” Jones said, answering the questions as to why she chose who she chose. “I think it’s all about how the community relates [with] them.”
It’s why every person to attend the forum, was asked to complete a candidate evaluation card.
The move is quite unheard of. Traditionally, the names of police chief finalists are kept confidential until an official appointment is made by the city manager. Often, this is done so that police officers at other departments can apply without their current employers knowing.
However, Jones said the current environment called for something different.
“There’s a lot of negative ‘us-against-them’ in the police versus the community. And with this process we start that buy-in right off the beginning,” Jones said.
For an hour and a half, the three answered pre-submitted and in-person questions from the public about how they’d serve in the top role. Questions revolved around mending the community-police relationship, gun violence prevention, technological improvements, police brutality and leadership style.
As they spoke, residents evaluated the candidates on their communication skills, problem-solving, organizational transformation and community partnerships. Before citizens left for the night, they were asked to rank their choice for the next chief.
“So in the comments, they will rank each of the candidates from one to three and all of that information will be provided to me as I interview individually,” Jones said. “Then I’ll look at that collected information. So, as I like to think, the cream rises to the top.”
She hopes to make her choice in the next month.
In three years there have been three different leaders of the Portsmouth Police Department.
Interim Chief Scott Burke has served in the role since former Chief Angela Greene was fired in November after being placed on administrative leave.
Greene was placed on leave in September in the wake of the June protest at the city’s Confederate monument, which led to a man being seriously hurt and more than a dozen Black community leaders, including state Senator Louise Lucas, being charged. Lucas and others had those charges dismissed in court in November.
Greene has since filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.
She was also hired this spring to serve as police chief of the Lexington, Virginia, police department. Greene started that position on May 10.
Before Greene, Tonya Chapman led the department as the first-ever female African American chief in Virginia. She was asked to resign in 2019 for reasons that were never made public.
Dixon has been in law enforcement since the 1980s.
He spent most of his career with the City of Richmond Police Department but served as chief of police for Petersburg police for nearly a decade.
He highlighted that the two cities are similar to Portsmouth and believed the citizens’ concerns may be similar.
He said he believes community engagement is “the most important thing you can have in policing today.”
He also highlighted to need to “peel back the curtain of the thin blue line” and show people what officers are doing and have all officer interactions be professional ones.
“You have to treat everybody like there is a very important issue to them,” Dixon said. “They may be routine and mundane to you but if somebody stole my newspaper you know that might be a crisis to me.”
Prince has been with the Portsmouth Police Department since 2018 and has nearly 40 years of law enforcement experience under his belt. He is also a U.S. Air Force veteran.
Married with four grown children, Prince highlighted that God is center in his life.
As the only internal candidate, he spent much of his time highlighting initiatives already in place.
“What am I really about? Partnerships,” Prince said. “We can’t accomplish anything any place unless we have those partnerships that we don’t like having… I am not going to tell you anything that is not true.”
Prince said the department needs to start back its RESET walks that started under former chief Chapman. He said they were discontinued during the pandemic and thus the department became more disconnected with the community.
When it comes to gaining the trust of the community, Prince said accountability will be key.
“Officers need to know number one, what’s expected of them and they need to know that someone will be checking,” Prince said. “It’s called inspect what you expect.”
Williams has never been a police officer in Virginia but was stationed at the U.S. Coast Guard base in Portsmouth.
He has been with the Jersey City Police Department since 1995.
“I believe Portsmouth is a rising star in the state of Virginia. It hardens me to look on the internet and see that Portsmouth is one of the number one most violent or unsafest place to live in,” Williams said. “My goal is to change that. I want to make it the safest place to live in.”
Williams said officers need to get back in the role of “guardians in the community.”
He wants officers to be known for more than just showing up at bad events.
He wants to partner with churches to help make the community more comfortable with officers.
Stay with WAVY.com for updates on this story.