Alexandria's new police chief is courtly and soft-spoken, but his quiet determination seems to have already made an impact on the police department he has headed for only seven weeks.
Charles T. Strobel, 40, is a 19-year veteran of the force who took over as police chief Sept. 1. Just last February, he was promoted to the newly created position of deputy chief of police, while at the same time maintaining his command of the uniformed division.
Chief Strobel, who holds a BS degree in the administration of justice from American University and is working towards a master's in public administration, is overseeing several internal studies to find ways of making his department operate more efficiently.
"We are trying to break tradition where in fact tradition is hampering the effectiveness of the agency," Strobel said in an interview in his office at police headquarters.
Perhaps his main goal as chief is to establish a closer working relationship between the police and citizens, he said. The department has already embarked on a pilot project in which six patrol lieutenants have been assigned to work with citizen's associations and community groups to help the department identify trends and problems before they become crime statistics.
The patrol commanders are responsible for getting to know community leaders and establish personal contacts with the groups in order to keep abreast of community developments.
"We acknowledge the fact that we alone cannot service the community," said Strobel. The police chief hopes that the program, believed to the first of its kind in the metropolitan area, will help close the gap between the police and citizens.
Strobel says that the necessary modernization of police departments has been achieved at the cost of isolation. "When we put an officer in a patrol unit and send him around the city more effectively, we also loose that personal touch," said Strobel.
Although Alexandria is a small city - population 110,000 - many of its problems are similar to those of other older, Eastern cities. This is true of the problems police face as well.
"We are affected by the various conditions that surround us," Strobel said. "We find that we have all the growing pains that any urban area would have."
Strobel said his department has begun to put more uniformed men on the street by hiring civilian employees to do office work currently being done by officers. Thus far six policemen have been transferred to street patrol, and the chief hopes that number can be increased to 12 by the end of the year.
Strobel, who was appointed to his post by City Manager Douglas Harman with the consent of the City Council, is also trying to hire more minority group members. But Strobel says this has proved a difficult problem in the past. Eleven per cent of the officers are minority members in a city with a 22 per cent minority population.
"Perhaps the law enforcement profession is not attractive to certain minorities," Strobel said. "That's the big question: How can we make it more attractive?"
Strobel added that one of the problems faced by the department in hiring more minorities is that all of the area police departments are competing to hire the few minority members who want to enter the police forces.
Another area of concern is the increase in the number of burglaries, which the recent annual report from the city manager's office called "the most difficult serious crime problem for the city to address."
Strobel said that while overall crime in the city is down by 4 per cent for the first eight months of this year, compared to 1976, burglaries have gone up by 6 per cent. In August alone, according to Strobel, burglaries rose 10 per cent over August 1976.
The chief said the "ready market" for stolen goods provides an incentive to commit burglaries, and he added that the police arrest a suspect in only 12.5 per cent of the reported burglaries. "We're not satisfied with it and we're looking for ways to improve our closure rate," he said.
Another goal is to improve in-service training fro officers, especially on problems created by job-related stress. To deal with it, the department has begun a lecture and firm series designed to help policemen recognize the symptoms, which often result in hyper-tension, alcoholism, and marital discord.