John Kelly: My Why
How did you first get involved with the Charlottesville Police Foundation?
I am a public relations/communications consultant, and received a call last year from board member Bill Hamilton, who told me that the Foundation was looking for some communications support and asked if I could come up with a proposal. That led to a meeting with Bill and former director Mindy Goodall where I started to learn what the CPF was all about. My first goal for our short-term agreement was to get a comprehensive understanding of the mission, the organization, and the people who make it happen. I began interviewing officers, board members and partners about what the CPF meant to them. Through the course of that process, I gained so much appreciation for what the Foundation does and what it means to the department and the community, I was ecstatic when I was asked to join the board. There are many important stories to be told, and I wanted to be a part of that process on an on-going basis.
What was your main takeaway from your process of learning about and communicating on behalf of the CPF?
The main thing I learned was that the Foundation is responsible for providing so much tangible and essential support for the CPD and its officers. It is easy as a community member to think that a municipality is able to cover the support costs needed to attract, maintain, and continually train a police force. The truth is, there are huge funding gaps for what are truly essential training and support functions that range from high-level leadership training to the K-9 to our housing grant program that helps officers to live in the community they serve. There are any number of areas where the Foundation is able to provide critical support that helps the department function better and, thus, helps the community be better served. I think it is easy for people to see the Foundation as a sort of cheering section for the police in our community. The way I see it is that we are an organization that works to give both our police and our community members the opportunity to serve and be served in the best way possible. I think one of the most important things we can do as an organization is illustrate the fact that these officers are deeply invested in the communities where they work. Are things perfect? No. Can we work harder to bridge gaps? Of course. But, so much good work is being done, and I want to be a part of working with an extraordinary team in supporting and highlighting that.
What has your connection with the Foundation taught you about police and the roles they play?
One thing I think all of us could benefit from learning is the human factor at play here. I got to sit in the living room of Officer Todd McNerney and his family and hear from his wife and his kids what it is like to have a dad as a police officer. I got to see firsthand the benefit the Foundation’s housing program provides from their perspective. And, I got to hear from Todd’s wife about the very real fear she feels on a regular basis, including an instance where she and the kids watched him speeding by in the other direction, lights on and sirens blaring. There are not many jobs out there that can take you from mundane to life-threatening in a single moment. The other big takeaway for me is that for all of the officers I have spoken to, there is a deep connection they feel with the communities they serve. The day-to-day positive interactions they have and the relationships they have built are not things we hear about enough and are vital to the jobs they do.
How can members of the community learn more about what the police do?
When things in our community and nation return to normal, I highly recommend the CPD’s ride-along program. Sitting in that passenger seat for a few hours gives you a perspective on an officer’s job and life that you just cannot get any other way, whether it is hearing about their lives on and off the job, or whether it is feeling the adrenaline that comes from the lights and sirens and heading toward a situation with many more unknowns than knowns. You will see sides of our community you may never have known existed. And as I said earlier, you will see the effort that is put in by the officers to genuinely get to know the people in the communities they serve. During my ride along, we stopped at a house in the city and climbed a narrow stairway to the third floor to speak to an older woman who then came down and chatted on her porch. We stayed at least 20 minutes, and it became very clear there was no casework going on here. When we left, the officer said she was a really nice lady and he worried not enough people were checking in on her. These kinds of things happen on a regular basis, and people should see that.