How did you get involved with the Charlottesville Police Foundation?
I was a friend of Chief Longo, and he told me that he had been cooking for many years and would love to be a part of the Men Who Cook event at MACAA. I told him he had gone to the right guy, I was Chef Chair for the event! In the course of working with him on the event, he said he wanted me to be on his foundation committee for the police force. I said yes without really knowing what it was, because he was my friend, I respected him, and I wanted to do what I could to help him succeed. I came to find out that it was a perfect fit for me. I grew up always knowing police officers. My older brother’s friends were police officers. They were always sitting at our table and eating. They called my mom Miss Sylvia, and the deal was, if Miss Sylvia was making lasagna, they were there. The police officer part was secondary. You broke bread with these guys. They were at your ballgames, shooting hoops in your driveways, they were there with us. So, for me it was a natural. There is a foundation out there looking out for police officers? I have been doing that my whole life. Sign me up!
Tell us about an experience you have had on a ride along that has stuck with you.
There are so many to choose from. An officer and I were out, and he saw a guy driving a car on a suspended license. He says, “That guy should not be driving,” and whips his car around, turns on the lights and comes up behind him. My first reaction was to ask, “How did you know that?” He said, “Antonio, this is my job. I am SUPPOSED to know that. I know my clients like you know your clients. And I know that guy is not supposed to be driving. That impressed the heck out of me. I see that the guy is giving him a bit of a hard time. And the officer says, “Whoah. Wait a minute. There are a lot of things I could be doing right now, like impounding the vehicle. I am asking you to park the vehicle and walk away.” The guy immediately calmed down. They knew each other and that helped to de-escalate the situation. He had caught the guy before and been through the whole process and the whole system. It proved that things don’t always have to get heavy handed, especially when there is a relationship to draw on.
You mentioned another interaction you witnessed that is the kind a lot of people never see or hear about…
Yes. We were driving along one day, and we passed a church where kids were outside playing. They are waving at us as we drive by and the officer turns her car around and stops. One of the kids immediately said, “Who are you looking for?” She said "I am not looking for anybody. You waved, and it would be rude of me not to wave back and come by and say hello." Their little eyes got so big, and then she had them eating out of her hands. She was going through each section of her belt, telling them what this does and what that is for. She gave those kids an education. She taught them that police officers are not just out there to look for, or to chase somebody. They are looking to make friends, too. She made a bunch of friends that day. Who knows what those kids were hearing at home? Here was a chance for her to tell a positive story right from the horse’s mouth. That was huge.
What is the main message you give to people you encounter who may not know about the Charlottesville Police Foundation?
I think the main message is “You don’t know the half of what is going on here. You don’t know the half of what these men and women do, so come find out. Let’s take a tour. Let’s do a ride along. You will be amazed what you learn.” People have no idea that we have a Housing Assistance Grant program, or that we pay for important training. We don’t use city resources, we pay for things ourselves, and I am really proud of that. Another thing people don’t realize is that there is so much behind the badge, so many stories of why they do what they do. And I can tell you it is definitely not for the money. So many of them do it for the honor that comes from serving their community. You are talking about people who put their lives on the line and often have to take a second job to do it. Finally, I tell them that police officers are members of our community, and that all of us, police officers included, have so much more in common than we do differences. The Charlottesville Police Foundation is an awesome way to celebrate that and to help not just the police, but all of us, in the process.