Q&A: Charlottesville’s New Chief on the Task Ahead, His Time at UVA

December 21, 2022 By Rob Seal, rseal@virginia.edu Rob Seal, rseal@virginia.edu

In May, Michael Kochis walked the Lawn with his classmates in his cap and gown, becoming one of the University of Virginia’s first-ever Master of Public Safety graduates. He had no idea then that he’d return to Charlotteville within months, wearing a much different uniform.

The City of Charlottesville announced Kochis, 48, this month as its new chief of police. He joins the force after three years as chief in Warrenton, in Fauquier County, and a career in the Alexandria Police Department.

His hiring is significant for the city, and it’s also noteworthy for UVA’s MPS program, which launched in 2021 in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

“We’re proud to have one of our graduates take a leadership role here in our home community,” said Melissa M. Lubin, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. “The MPS program is helping shape a new generation of public safety leaders, and we wish Chief Kochis the best in his new position.”

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Kochis will lead a department facing challenges similar to those facing the nation, including community concerns about policing, staffing and hiring challenges, gun violence, and more.

The online UVA MPS program, which draws students from across the country, is designed to prepare law enforcement leaders for just these challenges, said professor Bryon Gustafson, director of the MPS program.

“Michael Kochis is doing what we want all of our students to do; taking his experience in the MPS program and putting it to work in the real world in an important leadership position,” Gustafson said.

In announcing his hiring, Charlottesville leaders cited the work Kochis had done to build community trust in Warrenton.

Kochis recently answered some questions from UVA Today about his approach to leadership, what he learned from UVA, and more.

Q. Congratulations on the new position! What’s up first for you?

A. I’m really looking forward to getting started, and it’s already beginning. My 90-day plan includes one-on-one conversations with every employee in the Charlottesville Police Department. That’s a lot of time and work, but it’s worth it. I want to sit down with them and understand who they are and where they’re coming from, as people and in the department.

In the community, I’ve identified some stakeholders to meet with early on – residents, as well as faith leaders, organizations such as Black Lives Matter. Every group has a right to sit down with me one-on-one, look me in the face and ask questions or tell me what they expect from their police department, and I’m OK with that.

Outside of learning the department and community, the budget process is also starting right away. So, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Q. Where did you grow up? How did you get to where you are, professionally?

A. I grew up in northern New Jersey and I joined the Army right out of high school. I spent most of my police career in Alexandria, and then was appointed chief in Warrenton in 2020, just before the pandemic started.

Q. It’s been a tough few years for the city and the department, dating back to the Unite the Right rally in 2017. Is that on your mind? 

A. Yes, and here’s the benefit I have in this situation: I am an outsider, and I come in with a blank slate. I don’t know one officer within the Charlottesville Police Department, but I do think the issues the city faces are not all that different from what you see happening nationwide. I’m looking forward to getting to work, to getting down there and meeting everyone, from the department to residents and activists. I’m up for it.

I look at the job of law enforcement as a noble profession. Bringing justice or closure to families after something horrible happens is why I joined this line of work. Communities need us.

Professional learning, without pause. University of Virginia, Northern Virginia
Professional learning, without pause. University of Virginia, Northern Virginia

Q. Why did you go back to school?

A. As an executive these days in law enforcement, you have to continue learning to lead because the profession is changing. It’s much more complex than when I started 23 years ago.

I graduated from MPS in May and by July I was learning again with the Senior Management Institute for Police in Boston. Our communities need a chief or executive staff that is educated and able to understand the complexities of public safety.

Q. Why did you decide on the Master of Public Safety program at UVA?

A. I took the FBI’s National Academy, and I was able to take some graduate courses there. During that time, I heard about the UVA MPS program being developed, and it really piqued my interest.

I finished my undergraduate degree while I was in the Army, and I probably took classes from four different schools. MPS was set up in a way that made it possible for me to take the program while in a demanding job, and it was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

Q. Will what you learned help you in your new job? 

A. Absolutely. The coursework on budgeting and how to lead an organization is so important. constitutional law courses help you understand the nuance of constitutional law and see it from a different perspective. The leadership in community policing courses teach you how to better identify stakeholders and stakeholder mapping.

You also get a chance to learn from people like Dr. Gustafson, as well as Gordon Graham, who is a legend in police communities, and even California’s Supreme Court chief justice.

It’s such a relevant program. I have one of my officers in Warrenton who wants to move up, and I just wrote him a letter of recommendation for MPS.

Media Contact

Rob Seal

Director of Marketing and Communications School of Continuing and Professional Studies