New University police chief hopes to build trust in the community

After decades of service, Tim Longo is appointed U.Va. police chief

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Longo said that he believes he has an opportunity to create change, specifically regarding staffing within UPD.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

Tim Longo was named interim police chief for the University on Oct. 1 after former Chief Tommye S. Sutton resigned from the position. 

Prior to his appointment, Longo served as police chief for the City of Charlottesville for 15 years and director of the Master of Public Safety program at the University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies for the last two years. He retired from the Charlottesville Police Department in 2015 in order to focus his efforts on teaching and spending time with his family. 

As the city’s police chief, Longo was responsible for overseeing the day to day operations of the department and managing the department’s 127 police officers, as well as setting the department’s budget. 

Currently, the University Police Department is understaffed by 17 officers with nine officers currently enrolled in basic training. Longo explained that while his role as Police Chief for the University is an interim position, he believes he has an opportunity to create change — specifically regarding staffing within the department. 

“Establishing specific goals and priorities for the department moving forward requires some time to look, learn and listen,” Longo said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “Thus far, I have come to the conclusion that connecting the right applicants to our police and security elements is my greatest and most immediate priority.”

Longo, who has been a member of the Charlottesville community for nearly 20 years, said he views his new job as an extension of his community role.

“Every individual that is a part of this police agency will understand the importance of relationships and how that will impact our ability to best serve this community,” Longo said. “I think this University is a community — a community [that is] very, very rich with different perspectives and thoughts and ideas. Understanding and embracing those thoughts is really important to our success.” 

The University gave no reason for former Chief Sutton’s resignation and declined to comment further on his status. Longo said he was approached by the University 10 days prior to his official appointment on Oct. 1, as the University began looking for a new police chief while Sutton was placed on paid leave.

“Chief Operating Officer with the University, JJ Davis, and I began a discussion about my considering this position if the opportunity would require that an interim be named,” Longo said. “And [after] some thoughtful consideration, I accepted. I welcome the opportunity, and again, feel that it's a privilege to have had it extended.” 

In October 2018, former Chief Sutton said he hoped to foster strong connections between UPD officers and the University community through events such as pizza meals with students and community softball and basketball games where police officers play students — similar to Longo’s plan to focus on community policing.

“Bringing people together through a variety of events is a mechanism towards building relationships, but I think it is much deeper than that,” Longo said. “It also involves a willingness to think beyond the special events and circumstances that bring people together and introduce opportunities for one on one and small group engagement.”

While police chief for the City of Charlottesville, Longo and the department gained national attention during the protracted search for Hannah Graham. Graham, an undergraduate University student, was abducted and murdered by Jesse Matthew in Charlottesville in September 2014. 

During the press conferences with Graham’s parents, Longo asked the public for any information about Graham’s whereabouts on the night of her disappearance. Longo, however, received some criticism after the Charlottesville Police Department released information about Matthew prior to charging him in Graham’s disappearance. The Charlottesville Police Department released a “wanted” poster featuring Matthew’s name and likeness prior to charging him with a crime. Additionally, Matthew voluntarily talked to the police two days prior to Longo publicly naming him in the search for witnesses. 

Longo was also serving as police chief during the case of Yeardley Love, a University student who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely, and the case of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student was also abducted and murdered by Matthew. 

Today, Longo said he does not consider Graham’s case a point of inflection in his life of law enforcement. Rather, he sees his actions as an example of the importance of community-focused policing and the impact his own background had on his career.

“I've been a parent who's dropped kids off at college campuses far away,” Longo said. “In my case with John and Susan Graham, I felt a connection and obligation to be the person who represents an organization that was in a position to try to help them through the most difficult time of their life. That underscores the importance and value of being a public servant. So I don't know that it changed my perspective of the job, but it certainly underscores the importance of it.”

Rather than focusing on data-specific measurements, Longo said he will view the success of his tenure through the prisms of community and trust. 

“Success can be determined by the ways in which our University community partners view their relationship with us, how well we communicate our strategies around creating a safe environment for our students, faculty and staff, our University community's overall feeling of trust and confidence in the department and our members and the sense of pride that our employees feel in association with their respective roles in our department,” Longo said. 

Longo first became interested in law enforcement while enrolled at Towson University, working as an administrative clerk for the Baltimore Police Department and then joining the force as a patrol officer in 1981. After gaining experience in various modes of law enforcement, Longo accepted the job as police chief for the City of Charlottesville in 2001. 

Longo credits his time in Baltimore for developing his community-centered style of policing. For years, he says he has tried to form relationships and community trust in law enforcement.

“It doesn't even have to be a police chief,” Longo said. “[If you’re a] law enforcement officer serving a community of any type, relationships are important … The job is about people, it always has been and always will be. And that requires your ability to be able to garner trust and communication within the community.” 

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