‘Inside UVA’: Police Chief Tim Longo Closes Out Season 2 of Podcast
Audio: ‘Inside UVA’: Police Chief Tim Longo Closes Out Season 2 of Podcast(27:14)
Meet the safety-focused man at the other end of those “Community Alert” notifications.
Tim Longo, chief of the University of Virginia Police and associate vice president for safety and security: When I make the decision to send an alert, it’s because it’s a place where I know where students live. It’s a crime, a serious crime that’s just happened, and that it could present an ongoing threat to them. I want them to know that just an hour ago or moments ago, somebody fired a weapon, and you need to be aware that it happens so you can make smart decisions about your own safety.
Jim Ryan, president of the University of Virginia: Hi, everyone, I’m Jim Ryan, the president of the University of Virginia, and I’d like to welcome all of you to another episode of “Inside UVA.”
This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the University and to learn more about what they do and who they are. My hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works, and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is.
Today I have the privilege of introducing you to Chief Tim Longo. Chief Longo is University of Virginia’s chief of police, as well as the associate vice president for safety and security. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Law School, where he teaches police use of force and guest-lectures in a host of other programs related to the criminal justice system.
He comes from a rich history of community work, having worked for Baltimore’s Police Department for nearly 20 years, and made his way to the UPD after serving the Charlottesville Police Department and leading it for more than 15 years. Chief Longo is a husband of 35 years, a father of four, a grandfather of five, a teacher, a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, and from what I hear, a remarkable chef.
Chief, thanks for being here.
Longo: Thank you, Jim. I appreciate you having me.
Ryan: So let me start with the most obvious question: What is the “Feast of Seven Fishes,” and how and why do you celebrate it?
Longo: Oh, wow. Well, first of all, it’s glorious – this characterization of it. So you know, when I was growing up, the highlight of every week was the dinner table on Sunday. It wasn’t unusual to have 35 people at my mom and dad’s home on Sunday evening. And so as I got older, and my parents passed, and – you know, families tend to go their own way – when you know Mom and Dad are gone [and] not there to hold us all together – I wanted to find a way to bring some tradition into my own home with my kids.
And so I started cooking the Feast of Seven Fishes, which is an Italian tradition, dates back centuries – although the actual term “Feast of the Seven Fishes” is probably only maybe 50, 60 years old. But Catholics typically wouldn’t eat meat on Christmas, even during Lent, on Fridays, we wouldn’t eat meat. And so this concept of cooking seafood on Christmas Eve really defines what the feast is all about – to celebrate the birth of Christ. And so, I’m the master chef. We keep the numbers small, but we have quite the feast. It’s something I’m very proud of.
Ryan: That’s excellent. So you have been in law enforcement almost, if not entirely, [all of] your adult life. And I’m curious, when did you decide to go into law enforcement and why?
Longo: I’ll tell you, I was about 7, 8, [or] 9 years old, when I really got to meet police officers up close and personal. There was a situation in my neighborhood, a rabid dog that was biting kids as they were coming home from school, and the neighborhood I grew up in had some influential people who live there. And so, they made a few calls and for two or three weeks, the cops were there every everyday trying to catch a dog. And I’d met two or three of them. And they let me kind of hang out with them for the time that they were there.
What struck me was they really seemed to not only enjoy each other, but they enjoyed their work and they enjoyed people. And that seemed to me to be the most important part of what they did. And I was drawn to that.
And as irony would have it, as I grew up and became a police officer, I got a chance to know and grow up in the department with one of those officers, Kathy Peytek. And she and I retired kind of close to each other. And I, many times over the course of my career, would recollect seeing her as a young police officer. There weren’t many women police officers in Baltimore at that time, and to get to know her as a professional and as a friend, and watch us both grow in the department and be able to retire, was really kind of special for me as well.
And I don’t know that I’ve ever told her that story in as much detail as I’ve just shared it with you, but it’s a memory of mine that I’ll treasure forever.
Ryan: Well, I hope she’s listening. So I wonder if you could talk about the biggest changes you’ve seen over the course of your career. I wonder how policing has changed, how the relationship between police and communities have changed over that time period?
Longo: Well, the biggest change, I think, in American policing has been technology. We’ve done so much to push as much information as possible into the cockpit of a police car, so police officers can make real-time decisions based on data to not only identify trends and deploy resources, but hold police precinct captains accountable for their work.
I have seen systems of accountability changing police agencies not only in the law, but also internal accountability measures such as, what we used to call back in the early days, “early warning systems.” Now we call them “early intervention systems,” and they’re systems to track high-risk critical tasks so that police administrators can look for problematic trends and then address them before they create issues for the department and then, ultimately, the community.
And the other thing that I think I’ve seen changed, much to my regret, is this fracture between the police and communities. It’s not getting smaller, it’s getting wider. And that’s sad, because I remember walking – I worked in some pretty tough neighborhoods in Baltimore, but you know, I never felt like the good people that lived in that community didn’t have my back. I never felt fearful that the people who lived in that community – that were people that respected the law, that respected and valued relationships, that knew the meaning of what community really is, and why it’s important – I never felt like they would turn their back on me, and I don’t feel like they felt that I would turn my back on them.
But that’s changed over time, and I think, in part, because of our policing strategies. Some of them may have been very well-intended, but the consequences of those strategies on communities have been devastating. And when you saw the riots take place just a couple years ago, because of the terrible, terrible tragedy in Minneapolis, with respect to the death of George Floyd, it was symptomatic of long-term fear, anxiety, distrust and, frankly, outrage that people were feeling. And that’s what you saw played on the streets; it was as much about a longer period of history than it was about those terrible several, several minutes that resulted in Mr. Floyd’s tragic death.
Ryan: And do you have any idea how that trust can be restored? And let me ask a question that I’m sure you’re asked all the time, or a point that’s made, and that is: some people don’t feel safer when the police arrive. You know, in particular, I think in communities of color, you would probably hear, “We don’t really feel safe,” when the police arrive, which I think is symptomatic of this trend that you’re talking about. Are there some ways to restore that level of trust?
Longo: You know, our dear friend, former Pastor Greg Thompson, he described it once to a roomful of cops as, “That’s the invisible gas in the room, and you better know it’s there. You can’t smell it, you can’t see it, but it will kill you if you don’t know it’s there and be able to acknowledge it and then respond to it.”
This terrible thing we’ve been talking about – this mistrust, this fracture, this very reason why people don’t want to see us in their neighborhood, in their homes, in their classrooms – the only way that’s going to change, it really comes down to relationships. Think about the relationships in your life that have worked and think about the ones that haven’t. Relationships that fail fail because we lose trust and confidence in each other and we no longer want to communicate.
The first step to fixing this is being able to get into a room and go back to very basic humanity, treat people as individuals to deserve respect and value, and be prepared to have an open dialogue. And then from a policing perspective, we’ve got to be willing and have the courage to rethink our policing strategies in ways that are harmful to communities. If you go back and you read that paper on relational policing, you would have thought I wrote it yesterday. And basically, what it said is we’re not going to make any progress in relational policing until we’re willing as a profession to rethink our strategies – open up our hearts and minds, sit down with the constituents that are part of this solution, and be willing to listen to them and adjust to meet their expectations – those that are realistic, and that serve the best interests of our communities.
And until we’re ready to do that, the fracture won’t heal.
Ryan: Right. So, you were a leader in two city police departments, one in Baltimore, a big city, and then Charlottesville, a small city, and now you’re the chief of the University Police. And I’m wondering how being a leader of the University Police Department differs from being a leader in a city police department. What are the biggest differences?
Longo: You know, the one [thing] that kind of struck me very early on in my in my tenure here, you know, most in cities and counties and municipal policing, you see your constituents on a day-to-day basis.
There are people who expect a lot from me, having trusted me with these awesome responsibilities, that I might see twice over four-year period. When they drop their kids off September year one, and I see them on the Lawn four years later. And in that time period, they’ve entrusted me with the care of the very thing they love the most in the world. It’s a part of your professional career that will never leave your mind or your heart, for that matter.
Ryan: So let me shift gears just a little bit and talk about a topic that you and I have discussed. And it comes up from time to time, which is communication. You talked about that. First of all, for people who might be wondering, when do you decide to send out those community alerts, and when you decide not to?
Longo: So let me step back and answer the question more generally, and then drill down to specifics.
Federal law requires – the Clery Act – requires that institutions of higher education have several reporting obligations with respect to how they collect and report out crime, but they also impose obligations on notifying students and members of the University community when there’s a serious crime that has occurred that poses an ongoing threat. The Clery requirements apply within what’s called the Clery geography, and for our purposes, that would mean things that happen on Grounds or happen on public land that surround our Grounds, like our streets and sidewalks. We’re not required by law to send any alerts or notifications beyond that geography.
When I first got here, there was an incident that occurred down off of Preston Avenue, and it was a violent crime of a serious nature that, in my opinion, posed an ongoing threat. And I had a bit of that debate, but discussion with the person who oversaw our Clery compliance group at that point in time about why we would not send an alert under those circumstances. And the response I got was because it’s outside our Clery geography. My response back to that was I’ve lived in this community for, you know, at this point, almost 20 years, I’ve served as its police chief for almost 16, I can tell you who lives in this neighborhood, and 90% of the people are our students. And if the whole point of this is to alert them of a serious crime that’s occurred, that poses a threat to them, we need to be sending this alert.
And so we began sending them, and the consequence of that is of 27 alerts we’ve sent this year, 22 of them occur off-Grounds. When I make the decision to send an alert, it’s because it’s a place where I know our students live. It’s a crime, a serious crime, this just happened, and that it could present an ongoing threat to them. I want them to know that just an hour ago, or moments ago, somebody fired a weapon, and you need to be aware that it happened so you can make smart decisions about your own safety.
One question I get about those alerts, too, is that well, sometimes the information is really scant. There’s a lot of unknowns. And the reason for that is more often than not, and especially with off-Grounds incidents, we’re getting that information sometimes thirdhand; it’s coming from the city, it’s coming from one supervisor to the next. Oftentimes, the incident just occurred, and there’s not much information, particularly suspect information, to give. Nonetheless, the fact that it happened at a particular location makes it important [that] we get the information out.
One piece of suspect information, the vast majority of time, we’ll never include is race. And the reason for that is – and you’ll appreciate this as a as a as a lawyer – eyewitness identification is inherently flawed. We know that 70% of all wrongful convictions resulted because someone picked out the wrong person. And the disparate impact that that has on communities of color is tremendous. And so we make a conscious effort, unless I can vet that description through some independent, reliable source, such as a video camera. And even then, you’re almost guessing about what a race or ethnicity might be. We’ve chosen not to include it. And we get criticized for that for a variety of different reasons, but it’s a conscious decision I made because I’ve been personally involved with lots of cases around wrongful convictions that have arisen because of bad identifications. And they happen all over the country.
Ryan: So let me ask you what might be the flip side of this, which is when you decide to withhold information. I’ll give the example that you and I have discussed recently. So, there was a noose found on the Homer statue on the Grounds and there was an ongoing investigation, and you had to decide how much to reveal about what was left there [and] what was not.
How do you go about deciding how much information you can release once you’re in an active investigation? I’m guessing there’s not a formula, but there’s more of a balancing act.
Longo: Well, the whole job’s a balancing act, right, from start to finish. I tried to think of the end game, and so when I say “protect the integrity of the investigation,” what I mean by that is, I know that there are witnesses yet to be interviewed. It could have been a passerby; it could have been an eyewitness to the event; it could have been someone known to the suspect, to whom the suspect confided – it could be the suspect themselves – who have intimate knowledge about the case. When I find that person, whether it be the suspect, the person they confided in, or that eyewitness, or that person with firsthand information when I find them, and I gather information from them – that is, I take a statement from them – I want to make sure that the information that they give me is firsthand information that has not been tainted because of something that I’ve said publicly. If you’re not careful, what you say publicly in front of a camera or to a print reporter, will taint the witness’s memory or will taint the information they later provide you with. Sometimes it will even taint their testimony on the witness stand. It’s not that they’re trying to make it up; they believe that that’s what they saw – not because that’s what they saw, but because it’s something I planted in their mind. That’s one reason and oftentimes, it’s the typical reason.
The other reason, really, is in the case that you and I talked about, there was information about that case that only that suspect would know. The only other person that would know that is someone that suspect had direct communication with. That’s really important evidence to preserve and keep close to you, until such time as you can use that to help either identify that suspect, determine what their motive was, or otherwise further your case in a positive direction. So those are decisions I have to make sometimes on the fly.
They’re tactical decisions. And by that I mean, tactical in how I proceed with the investigation. But they’re incredibly important. [They’re] frustrating to the community, but incredibly important to protect the integrity of that investigation and the subsequent trial process.
Ryan: Right. And I assume that that is balanced out against the need to assure a community that it’s safe, right, that must be the countervailing consideration.
Longo: That’s right. There are some things that you can’t hold because it’s an impending threat that you need to alert people to. And certainly, if that would have been the case in this particular situation, we would have made a different decision or applied a different calculus, if you will.
Ryan: So Chief, I’d like to turn to another topic now – a hard one. And that is the shootings in November. [It] cost the lives of three of our students, Devin Chandler, Lavell Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry. Two other students, Mike Hollins and Marlee Morgan, were seriously injured. And as you know, a lot of people suffered: the victims, obviously most of all, but also their friends and families.
You were on the front lines, you and your colleagues were on the front lines during that tragic night. And I’m just wondering, how have you been holding up in the months since November?
Longo: Well, you know, it just seems like all too often these days we turn on the TV, we look at the newspaper, and we hear about these senseless tragedies like we experienced here, and I’m sure many of us thought something like this would never happen in our backyard. We’ve become so comfortable in our own worlds. And then when something like this happens, it’s so deconstructive.
I think we’re also healing. And it’s going to take a really long time, if ever, that we’re healed from something like this. I can’t imagine. I really can’t imagine what the families and friends and classmates and student-athletes are going through, that have been impacted so hard. But they’re so gifted, they’re so ambitious, they’re so hopeful that they’re so young, and they’re not accustomed to dealing with grief and devastation like this.
I guess the good news is we’re so fortunate to have a robust system around us: CAPS [Counseling & Psychological Services], Student Affairs, peer support, the network of faculty, staff, friends, and the community, that are holding us up, lifting us up, praying for us every day, coming to our aid when we need them. But I think it’s gonna take a long time to get over this.
Ryan: So that event along with, you know, reports of an increase in shootings around Charlottesville, and near UVA, brought a lot of attention to the issue of safety. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about some of the measures UPD has taken, and is taking, to keep our community as safe as it can be?
Longo: Well, yeah, about a year ago, probably a little more than that, we began doing some pretty robust training around active attacker situations that would occur here on Grounds. We started with a tabletop exercise, and that evolved into a full functional exercise which we did Spring Break a year ago. We brought in the regional law enforcement, EMT, federal and state authorities as well. And we practiced; we now have a very robust rapid response team of nine officers that are highly trained, highly equipped to respond to active threat, active shooter incidents. We train regularly with them.
We’ve recently conducted a training exercise for our colleagues in the Medical Center. Here at the Transitional Care Hospital used to bake in for there, we put 100 people through that exercise. We’ve trained officers across the department in single-officer response techniques, because more often than not, the first responder is going to be one. And we no longer wait for help. We train officers to go in and to save lives, as many as we possibly can.
You know, our active threat training video that we produced actually a couple of years ago, and we’ve refined it [since]. It’s about a seven-minute video; we’ve made it now publicly available on our website. That’s touched 4,000 people on Grounds over the past couple of months.
With respect to our classroom training, some 18,000 people have signed up at some portion to take that. I think we’ve touched again about 4,000 with that as well.
And let me pause here and just say this is uncomfortable, because it’s still so raw, and it generates so much emotion. But we have to do this; we have to do our very best to train people around us what to expect, because look, we live in an evil world, and evil looks just like you and I. And we have to prepare for it and do our best, and at the same time be respectful to how people are feeling as we go through this.
We’ve increased the capacity of our COPS unit, which are the officers in the community-oriented policing squad that work the Corner, and the concurrent jurisdiction area where students live. We’ve added a lieutenant to oversee that patrol element. We’ve added some Ambassador posts to areas where faculty, students and staff are most frequently occupied when they’re not here on Grounds. We brought together our regional partners, what we call a ComStat session, which is, we get together monthly; we look at all our data with a focus on gun violence and violent crime. We figure out where the commonalities are, we look for trends, we develop regional strategies to react and respond to them. And then we monthly look at our outcomes to see how effective we’re being at the strategies we’ve employed. We’ve brought in our State Police and federal partners for those discussions as well.
And then lastly, we’re active participants in the President’s Working Group on Community Safety. And I couldn’t be more pleased with just the two meetings we’ve had thus far with the group of people that are around that table.
Ryan: So let me ask you a follow-up on two pieces of this. So first, your point about working with Charlottesville and Albemarle County. I mean, that seems crucial in order to tackle this issue, because, you know, those communities intersect at so many different points. And so, working on this together seems absolutely essential. How is that partnership going?
Longo: It’s incredible. I meet with Col. Reeves and Chief Kochis almost weekly. We talk almost daily, we see each other frequently, and we’ve never been more engaged.
You know, when I first moved to this community back in 2001, the two municipalities and the University were always hand-in-hand. Just in our day-to-day operations, we can’t do it alone, and that’s been particularly the case around law enforcement. And, again, I don’t know that we could do what we do without each other. The personal relationship is very strong, the professional relationship is strong as well. And we try to approach every issue, because crime knows no boundaries, as you suggest, we try to approach every issue in a collaborative way. Because there’s power in numbers, and that makes sense operationally as well.
Ryan: And then the other follow up is about the Community Safety Working Group. So we put this together in March, and it consists of people from UVA and from Charlottesville and Albemarle County with some experience and expertise on the issue of gun violence. And its charge is to focus on short- and medium-term measures that we can pursue in order to try to mitigate and reduce gun violence.
So you said you’re happy about the first two meetings. What do you hope this group will produce?
Longo: Results. Bottom line, results.
You know, we’re really fortunate in so many ways to have such a smart and enthusiastic [group]. And [the] broad base of experience this group has is just tremendous. You know, lately, [in the] past two meetings, we focused on really educating the group as a whole. We brought in our law enforcement data folks to talk about what the trends have looked like, not just today, but [over the last] five years and we’ve identified some commonalities. We brought in mental health experts to talk about how the intersection between violent crime, and especially gun violence, intersects with mental health. And we brought in our school officials to see what they’re seeing in their classrooms, in their hallways, particularly in our high schools. And there’s, quite frankly, without going into the detail, there’s a lot of commonality across these various spaces.
And I think at the end of the day, what I hope we don’t do is just produce window dressing. Because that’s not going to be helpful. It’s going to take some time to really look at the why – what’s the moving force behind this gun violence – and then produce things that we can do today, not five years from now. And frankly, some of that will be law enforcement-focused; what are the law enforcement strategies we can do to suppress the violence? And then approach how we combat the violence in ways that are not only lawful, but really meet the community’s expectations.
Ryan: Well, Chief, thank you very much for spending time with me and thank you for everything you do for our community. It’s an honor to work with you.
Longo: It’s an honor to work with you as well, sir. Have a great day.
Ryan: Alright, you too.
Mary Garner McGehee, co-producer: “Inside UVA” is a production of WTJU 91.1 FM and the Office of the President at the University of Virginia.
“Inside UVA” is produced by Kalea Obermeyer, Aaryan Balu, Mary Garner McGehee and Matt Weber. We also want to thank Maria Jones and McGregor McCance. Our music is “Turning to You” from Blue Dot Sessions.
Listen and subscribe to “Inside UVA” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
We’ll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the University.
In his last podcast of the season, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan asked his guest, UVA Chief of Police Tim Longo, a simple question: When does the chief decide to send the community an email alert?
“When I make the decision to send an alert, it’s because it’s a place where I know our students live, it’s a crime, a serious crime that’s just happened, and that it could present an ongoing threat to them,” Longo said.
The chief said sometimes he will hear from people saying the information was really “scant. There’s a lot of unknowns.”
“Oftentimes, the incident just occurred and there’s not much information, particularly suspect information, to give,” he said. Still, if the area where the offense occurred is known to have a student population, Longo said, he wants to get the information out there.
The University just announced plans to automatically enroll students, faculty and staff in UVA Alerts text messaging this weekend to provide quick notice of imminent threat.
In addition to being the chief of police, Longo is the associate vice president for safety and security. “He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Law School, where he teaches ‘Police Use of Force,’ and guest-lectures in a host of other programs related to the criminal justice system,” Ryan explained.
Ryan asked Longo to talk about the changes in policing he has witnessed over his career. One, Longo said, is the deterioration of relations between police and the community.
To hear Longo’s thoughts on how to bridge that gap and how things are going with the recently formed Community Safety Working Group on reducing gun violence, tune into “Inside UVA,” which is streamed on most podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.