‘Dark cloud’ lifted for Hopewell police
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jun 24, 2013, 15:07
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Gary Dillon, Department of Criminal Justice Services VLEPSC Program Manager, presents Police Chief John Keohane and Deputy Chief Robert Skowron with the certificate of state accreditation at the City Council meeting Tuesday night.
HOPEWELL — After 21 months and a complete re-write of more than 100 policies to create a 1,000-page manual, the Hopewell Police Department is now a state-accredited agency, a first in the history of the department.
Two years ago, Police Chief John Keohane came to Hopewell and made it one of his goals to make the department an accredited agency, to not only bring the police department to a different level but for the officers on the force.
“This was not for us. I was doing it for really for the officers, really the Hopewell police family, the Hopewell Police Department,” Keohane said. “For them to gain some respect in this area, in the region and throughout the Commonwealth that they are an accredited agency. It was the right thing to do.”
When the department applied for accreditation in December of 2012, Deputy Chief Robert Skowron, who is the accreditation manager for the department, said the policy was “outdated and antiquated.” He started from scratch and began to not only re-write the policy manual but add new policies as well, polices that needed to start being enforced.
“One policy that really struck me the most was there was really no disciplinary policy to follow,” Keohane said of the previous manual. “So what happens is when you try to invoke discipline, they have a right to a grievance because you really don’t have a policy to follow and that’s what was occurring.”
Skowron said polices were also added for promotions within the department, policies regarding information management, and criminal justice information, such as how it is processed and released.
Both Keohane and Skowron admitted hours and hours of work went into getting the police department to the accreditation finish line, saying they even took policies to read and re-write.
“You spend a lot of personal time to get us to where we are,” Skowron said.
The Hopewell Police Department was recognized at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night and presented with a certificate of accreditation. Gary Dillon, with the Department of Criminal Justice Services, Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission Program Manager, presented Keohane and Skowron with the certification after a few words of congratulations.
“I was happy to see [the department] come under new leadership and I was happy one of the first things Chief Keohane wanted to do was have this department accredited,” Dillon said.
Members of the Hopewell Police Department, Hopewell Police Volunteers and Animal Control officers were in attendance as the department was awarded with the certificate of accreditation at the council meeting on Tuesday night.
While the chief can come to every council meeting and state how great his department is performing, as well as his officers stating the department is in great shape, Dillon continued, it means much more when an outside agency can come in, do a thorough investigation, and find that the department meets and exceeds the standards.
“That means a whole lot more,” Dillon said. “That pretty much verifies what your chief tells you when he tells you your department is in good shape.”
Once the certificate was passed into the hands of Keohane and Skowron, council chambers erupted with sounds of applause, cheers and a standing ovation from everyone in the room, including all council members.
“It brings professionalism, it brings competence,” Keohane said after the presentation of the award. “It brought a level of professionalism and accountability. The men and women here deserve it. Hopefully it will lift that dark cloud and we can start moving forward.”
That dark cloud that had been hovering over the police department, as well as the city, involved the property and evidence room of the department. It began in August of 2006, when it was reported that $85,000 in cash, firearms, drug paraphernalia, and drug samples were missing. The 1,600 items belonged to 87 cases and when the report was made in August, the items had already been missing for six months.
In May of 2012, after five years of investigation, the Virginia State Police criminal investigation into the property and evidence room resulted in no charges being filed and it was determined there had been no criminal violations of state law within the department.
During the accreditation process, Keohane said due to that black cloud over the department, the assessors, who spent two full days reviewing all aspects of the department, pulled 35 items from the property and evidence room to review. Keohane said that is roughly five to six times more than the standard.
Keohane also noted that since he has been in charge of the force, more than 3,000 items have now been properly destroyed, noting that before he arrived, it was estimated that it had been over seven years since evidence had been destroyed.
“Hopefully people will start moving forward and start forgetting the ills of the past and that we can move forward because there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Keohane said before the meeting. “There will always be challenges but I think with accreditation, I think that we can show that we are a very professional agency now. We can be compared to our law enforcement peers of the other agencies that are accredited.”
The Hopewell Police Department, becomes the 85th agency out of 400 in the state to carry the title of accreditation.
Mayor Mike Bujakowski said the dark cloud seemed lot worse all those years ago, called it a storm that had descended upon the city.
“It was very dark days. Those police officers that stayed the course, the police volunteers and staff and helped the department work through that and come out from under that, this is a big thing for the city and it means a lot,” Bujakowski said.
During the council meeting, Keohane also recognized many other members of the police department family, from all over the state, that helped the department gain the title of state accredited agency, such as Chief Jeffery Faries, of the Colonial Heights Police Department, a department that was also recently accredited, Chief Ed Frankenstein from the Prince George Police Department, and Lt. JJ McLaughlin III with the New Kent County Sheriff’s Office.
With tears brimming in his eyes, Keohane turned to the numerous police officers, police volunteers and animal control officers, and told them the accreditation was for them, a well-deserved honor.
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT The Hopewell Police Department received a standing ovation from its own on Tuesday night at the council meeting.
“This was a great working crew when I got here,” Keohane said. “It’s just that you were overlooked and overshadowed for so long. This accreditation proves that you are a top-shelf agency now.”
Keohane also said the accreditation was for the citizens of Hopewell. He told the community members in attendance the department would work hard for them
“This is or you too, that you can trust us,” Keohane said. “There’s been a lot of mistrust over the years. More people have come to us and trust us now in that aspect.”
Though the agency has received this honor, Keohane said their is work that still needs to be done within the department, as well as continuing to stay on top of all the new policies and procedures.
The accreditation certifies the department for a total of four years, but once that four years is over, there will be another review and in that time, the department has to keep documentation that all polices and procedures had been followed.
“Just because we got accreditation now, it doesn’t end,” Skowron said before the meeting. “It’s a continuous process that we will have to monitor and go through almost every single day.”