Getting to know Sergeant Todd McNerney and his family - By John Kelly
My interview with longtime CPD officer Todd McNerney begins with a kind greeting, strong eye contact, and a strong handshake. Todd and his wife Katherine hadn’t even come to the door. The greeting came from 10 year-old Turner, the oldest of the McNerney’s four boys.
On a sunny late-summer weekday afternoon, we sat in the family’s living room to chat about the life of a police officer, and what it is like to be part of a police officer’s family. Like many meetings, it began with some getting-to-know-you chit chat. Turner was having none of it. “When,” he asks with a touch of impatience, “are we going to start?”
“He’s trying to get us back on track,” Officer McNerney said. “We’re going sideways.”
The conversation would ultimately go virtually every direction, as would the boys themselves. They are delightful, respectful, and fun. The younger three move in and out of the room, while Turner, taking his new communications facilitator job seriously, stays for most of our chat.
It’s obvious in the first few minutes that there is a lot to love about this family.
Honoring Turner’s wishes to get things moving, I dive in with some questions and begin to learn a few things. Todd McNerney has been with the CPD for 15 years, he said, and was born and raised in Charlottesville, as was his wife, Katherine. “The first morning we woke up in this neighborhood,” he said, “the kids were up at 6 AM, riding their bikes out there.” They knew at least one of the neighborhood households wouldn’t mind. Katherine grew up in the neighborhood, and her parents still live there.
That scene would probably never have happened, the McNerney’s told me, without the Charlottesville Police Foundation and its Housing Grant program, which provides officers and their families $20,000 toward the purchase of a home within 12 miles of the department. “We were right on the cusp of being able to afford this house,” Katherine said. In addition to allowing the family to be part of the community they know and love, the house helps them maximize their family time, which can sometimes be difficult given her 30 hour a week job and the recent promotion to Sergeant that put Todd back on overnights. She and her husband, Katherine said, often high-five at the door as one workday ends, and another begins.
The proximity also means that the family can see Dad at work, even when they are not expecting to. “A while back,” Todd said, “I was running lights and sirens to help an officer who was not answering his radio, and a civilian had called in to say an officer needs help due to a struggle. I pass Katherine on the bypass and she sees me.”
“The boys were with me,” Katherine said. “We were counting the police cars that were going by us and we got up to seven. I was calling him just to make sure he was doing something that was OK. That is as close as I am ever going to get to a ride along. With this job, there is enough to worry about without seeing things first-hand.“
The worry, she says, rarely goes away. “When your husband is 15 minutes late from work, you have to think, ‘What does that mean?’ Your mind starts racing. Sometimes I roll over at 3 AM and he is supposed to be there, and the worry can creep in.”
That worry, she said, has definitely been greater since the events of August, 2017, events which obviously continue to bring challenges for the department. “The biggest issue,” Todd said, “is the loss of the public’s trust. I’ve lived here my whole life, and I know so many people.” A simple walk through Friday’s After Five with him, Katherine said, can turn into a marathon with the number of people he stops to talk with. “So, it is definitely hard to be in a situation in my own hometown where people have so many issues with the police. It is something a lot of us feel, and it has clearly been an issue for both morale and for retention.”
“There have been instances where I have told the kids not to tell people that their Dad is a police officer,” Katherine said, “and that makes me sad. It’s just a safety thing. You are not always sure how people are going to react, so sometimes you keep things close to the vest. Our kids, however, hold it in very high esteem.”
“I think it is really cool,” Turner said, “but I do get scared sometimes that he is going to get hurt. I am really proud of him. It is a hard job to have that much bravery to go out there and take care of what needs to be done.”
The foundation’s role of taking care of the caretakers is greatly appreciated by the family. “You always know you have someone in your corner,” Katherine said. Todd cited the work of Foundation Executive Director Mindy Goodall. “She is always trying to get creative, and she is always thinking of ways to make us feel special.”
As we head outside to say goodbye, the kids are more than happy to pose for a family picture, and for some silly solo shots that they insist on seeing, then dissolve into giggles, then head off on bikes before being gently corralled for a pose or two. They laugh easily, these boys, and are clearly squeezing every bit of joy from the last days of summer.
Todd is getting ready to head into work, where he will spend some time in the office before heading out to the streets by 10:30 to patrol sides of Charlottesville many will never know exist. He appreciates the opportunity to show residents and visitors this world.
“It is important for people to see things for themselves,” Todd said. “Most people who have lived in Charlottesville their whole lives would think these things could never happen here.”