City police chief details his vision for community policing at business roundtable

Williamsburg Chief of Police Sean Dunn presented an overview of his career milestones and his best practices for effective policing at the Economic Development Authority’s monthly business roundtable luncheon.

The chief, who joined the Williamsburg Police Department last June, stressed the importance of building trust within the community to the group, which included small business owners and members of local government. In particular, Dunn stressed the importance of proactive community policing over reactive, more aggressive policing practices that has long been the norm in communities across the country.

“The police chief has already made a big difference in our community by increasing community patrols and parking enforcement in the downtown area with new officers,” said Rick Overy, vice chairman of the EDA Board of Directors.

Dunn explained how his experiences as an officer in Portsmouth, Virginia shaped his understanding of how police officers can get involved in their communities and how he plans to bring those ideas to Williamsburg.

“Traditional policing, as most of us know, is very reactive; police officers responding from call to call, going from emergency to emergency,” said Dunn. “[As an officer], I had the opportunity to see what was going on in the community, really assess it, talk to community members, and really put my time and the time of my department members much more strategically, much more surgically, in areas where we felt we could have the biggest impact on the community.”

Since taking on the role of police chief, Dunn has led the Coffee with a Cop program, which allows city residents to voice their concerns to officers in an informal setting, and has led an effort to increase parking enforcement downtown and near the William and Mary campus.

Dunn says he encourages his officers to engage with the community, so that community members can contact police if they notice suspicious activity and prevent serious crime before it occurs.

“It’s so important that we maintain your trust and we maintain our credibility to actually taking care of the issues that you bring to our attention,” said Dunn. “True engagement with community members and truly being a participant in the community and not just a bystander, and certainly not just an enforcer.”

When asked about the kinds of calls that the police department typically gets during the nighttime, Dunn pointed to noise complaints and traffic incidents as the biggest repeat offenders. The police chief also addressed the challenges that his force faces when patrolling a city with such a high tourist and student population.

“We constantly remind our officers that we have folks in our community every single day who have never been here before,” said Dunn. “It certainly proves challenging for us, having a community where some folks aren’t familiar with some of the ways that we do things. Parking is a good example of that, but it keeps it interesting for us.”

The next meeting of the EDA’s monthly business roundtable will be on May 8, and will feature a presentation on the city’s economic outlook for 2018 from Roy Pearson, business professor and economist at William and Mary. A location has not yet been announced.

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