New Manassas police chief discusses plans, challenges ahead

Manassas Police Chief Douglas Keen
Manassas Police Chief Douglas Keen
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By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010

After more than 20 years with the Manassas Police Department, Douglas W. Keen became the city's police chief in May, when John J. Skinner retired after 12 years at the helm.

Two months into Keen's tenure as the department's leader, the 45-year-old Prince William County resident discussed with a Washington Post reporter the plans he has for the department and the challenges that lie ahead. His responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.

What are the biggest crime-related issues facing the city?

In 2009, overall crime in Manassas rose for the first time in nine years. The 7 percent increase in overall crime was mostly attributed to increases in the number of less serious offenses, with the biggest issues being theft from vehicles and graffiti. In 2009, the number of auto thefts went up 8 percent, while the number of reported graffiti cases went up 16 percent. In order to curb these crimes, the department will continue with its public outreach initiatives, educating people on how not to become a victim and on the importance of reporting any problems.

What are your biggest challenges as leader of the department?

Sustaining the department's economic status in order to provide the services citizens are used to is one of the biggest challenges right now. In the past two years, the department has lost six positions that it can't replace due to budget cuts. Staffing has become a huge concern as people retire or leave for other jobs. It is hard to compete, in terms of benefits and salaries, with Prince William and Loudoun counties, as well as with the federal government, which is hiring constantly.

By the end of July, the department will likely lose another 10 to 12 people, which will bring the number of full-time employees to 78. Although I'm allowed to fill those positions, most people hired still need to go through 10 months of training at the academy before they can be on the streets.

Without proper staffing, another challenge will be maintaining response times and answering all traffic-related complaints in neighborhoods. Officers might not be able to respond as quickly to complaints of people speeding in a neighborhood, for example. The response time for non-emergency calls, which averages 17 minutes now, may also drop with fewer officers on the street.

What are some of your goals for the department?

Besides staying on top of staffing, another goal is to maintain the department's flagship status from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The agency comes once every three years to review the department and is due back in August.

The department is also replacing its communications system. Set to launch in September, the new system allows the department to plug into the GPS devices in patrol cars in order to more effectively dispatch officers. When a call comes in, for instance, the system will be able to tell through the GPS system which officer is closest to the incident. The new communications system will also allow residents to file reports for smaller crimes, like vandalism to a car, online instead of waiting for an officer and to search a database online to see the latest crime data.

We also need to revamp the community policing program. Police officers must be more visible on the streets, either on bike or foot. I want to build relationships between officers and residents, so people become familiar with who patrols their community.

What is the best way for residents to find out about crime in their neighborhood?

When the new communications system launches in September, residents will be able to go online and search for crimes in their specific neighborhood. People can also continue to reach out to the community services officer at the police department or attend the quarterly town hall meetings hosted by the City Council.

Why did you apply for this position, and what will you bring to the table?

I've been here 21 years, and this is family to me. I think I am able to provide the leadership and vision we need to get us to where we need to go in the future. I have a lot of knowledge about the community and have worked in every department, so I am very well-rounded. I'm looking to form more partnerships with businesses and community members and am open to suggestions from residents.

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