Charlottesville Police Foundation i

“My Why” - Educator and Community Leader - Board Member Karen Waters-Wicks

February 8, 2021

CPF Board Member Karen Waters-Wicks’ interest in learning about and working with police departments goes all the way back to her days at the University of Virginia. The noted educator and community organizer was a member of the Family Housing Association, where a big part of her job was building relationships between a largely international community and the University Police. But it was not just her clients reaping the benefits of those relationships, she shared. Karen was one of the first nighttime bus drivers for JAUNT at UVA and would regularly pull late shifts picking up workers from the former Con Agra plant in Crozet. “The police always knew I was out there,” she remembers. “They were watching out for me, and that was a cool feeling.”

Later Karen would build a deeper relationship with the Albemarle County Police and the CPD and then Chief Longo through her work with MACAA and with the Quality Community Council. And today, as the Director of the Driver Education Program with Albemarle County Schools, she works to bridge divides in service of the community as a whole. “For many folks of color, traffic stops are one of the primary ways of becoming involved with laws enforcement” she said, “I think it is really important to continue to work with them to ensure we are having less bias-based policing, and that only happens when you open a door to a relationship.”

Karen sees important similarities between this work and being a CPF board member. “I like to explain to people that the Charlottesville Police Foundation is to the CPD what the PTO is to schools. We come in to find says to create resources that the department may not be able to find within their own budgets, but that does not mean they are not critically important. With the CPF being able to come in and help close those gaps, the real winners, in the end, are our citizens.”

There is another unfortunate similarity between the professions, she adds. “Like teachers, police officers are woefully underpaid for the level of responsibility they have.” She points to the Foundation’s Housing Grant program as another way the organization makes an important difference. “The reality is, you get the police department you pay for, and being able to hire and retain a police force that looks like the community it serves is key.”

As a person who has made a career out of building relationships at the community level, Karen gets particular satisfaction out of seeing CPF programs like Cops 4 Kids and the Kids Night Out, which was recently COVID-modified as a Halloween event. “It was amazing to see those hundreds of cars  come through and getting to see my grandchildren’s faces when they got to give the Chief a high-five and check out Tito’s motorcycle. Who knows, we might be growing a future police chief in those crowds of kids – and those are moments some of them will remember for their whole lives.”

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James Pierce

The Police Department supports the Boys & Girls Club Teen Program by sending officers to the Cherry Avenue Club from 7 to 11 p.m. during the summer. There is nothing quite like seeing a police officer on a Teen Night in the Club, smiling, shooting hoops, or riding a mechanical bull to humanize all officers for the kids. The Club appreciates its unique partnership with the CPD and CPF.

—James Pierce, Executive Director

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia