In June of 2020 Chief Cheesebro and others received several letters urging “Effecting change to the benefit of the entire W&M community.” In response to that letter Chief Cheesebro sent a community-wide message and responded to each letter individually. As the leader of the W&M Police Department she committed to assessing practices and sharing more information in the interest of transparency.
This document outlines the actions taken and those still proposed as part of the overall response plan.
The W&M Police Department is accredited by the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission. This process involved a thorough on-site review of departmental policies, assessment of equipment, audit of property and evidence, and a patrol ride-along. The W&M Police presented over 700 folders of information for review by the Accreditation Team.
As part of our response, W&M Police posted the following policies that have been through this Accreditation vetting process:
- Mission, Values, Ethics and Oath of Office
- Fair and Impartial Bias Free Policing
- Use of Force Overview
A police officer’s duty to intervene when observing inappropriate conduct, including use of force, is articulated in multiple ways through our policies. However, after hearing the concerns across the country about this very important aspect of police accountability, WMPD developed and implemented a separate policy just on Police Duty to Intervene. This policy was distributed and discussed with all members of WMPD and is also posted.
WMPD posted the Department statistics on arrests and traffic citations for 2018-June, 2020. The data is categorized by demographic and W&M affiliation categories. Chief Cheesebro committed to publishing that data on a monthly basis throughout the year.
On July 1, 2020 the Department posted the form provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia that requires all law enforcement agencies to collect specific traffic stop data. As mandated, WMPD adopted that form.
In 2017, Chief Cheesebro joined many partners in signing a community covenant between area black leaders and law enforcement to foster “an atmosphere of unity, respect, understanding and cooperation.” In June of 2020, Chief Cheesebro joined these same community partners in re-committing to this community covenant. She participated in the community gathering of over 800 people in Colonial Williamsburg. Several community and law enforcement leaders spoke to the importance of the time for change. Community partners reaffirmed the previous commitment of area law enforcement and the African American community “to work in collaboration and transparency to resolve injustice and racial disparities” related to policing.”
Over the summer Chief Cheesebro participated in multiple virtual meetings with W&M students. She listened to student views and suggestions. It served as a catalyst for other actions taken as part of this plan.
Prior to June of 2020, W&M police officers had completed multiple training sessions on Diversity and Inclusion and Fair and Impartial policing. Chief Cheesebro committed to continuing relevant training for the Department, and specifically agreed to ensure all officers had some type of new or refresher training prior to the semester. Over the summer, officers completed the VA Association of Chiefs of Police Implicit Bias Training.
WMPD strives to keep open communication with students throughout the year. Chief Cheesebro definitely heard student voices asking for more consistent information and predictable access to her, as the leader of WMPD, the Commonwealth attorney, and other police agency leaders. In response Chief Cheesebro is planning an open (virtual) meeting for the community where she can share monthly police activities and enforcement data. She will solicit feedback and respond to questions or concerns. Chief Cheesebro will also invite the other area law enforcement leaders identified by students to attend. For this semester these meetings will occur at 7PM on September 16, October 14, and November 11, 2020.
Student Assembly Advisory Group
In the past, Chief Cheesebro has met with Student Assembly Leadership to help set priorities, create joint initiatives and respond to student concerns. This year, Student Assembly has proposed a new advisory group to work with WMPD. Chief Cheesebro fully supports this collaborative effort to foster a safe, welcoming and inclusive campus.
Statement Condemning Police Abuse Of Power and Force
Chief Cheesebro, and other local law enforcement officials, have publicly condemned the police acts of misconduct and misuse of force across the country. She is clear that police need to be accountable for their actions, including being charged with criminal homicide in cases such as Mr. Floyd. W&M police officers have participated in the Norfolk BLM Unity March and will continue to do so as more are planned. The Department is also assessing our community police officer assignments and expectations to be more effective with a greater portion of the student body. WMPD has already added a second community police officer assignment to the Athletics Department. Other changes will be implemented based on community feedback. Chief Cheesebro has always said that WMPD is not intended to be the “gotcha” police. She is committed to keeping students safe in a manner that supports the educational environment.
WPD and WMPDChief Cheesebro and Chief Dunn have worked successfully to improve the communications and collaboration across agencies. Relationships at the Chief and other levels throughout the ranks are now stronger than ever. We expect that this very positive relationship to continue to benefit the W&M Community.