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February 10, 2020

New Warrenton police chief says small town a good fit

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
“I really felt like this was the right time for me and the right community,” new Warrenton Police Chief Mike Kochis says. “People in this community are engaged. It’s not like that everywhere.”
He’s definitely led from the front. He understands police work, builds relationships and understands that we are part of the community . . . . I’ve never seen him get mad. He sees your point of view.
— Alexandria Police Sgt. Ryan Waple
Michael P. Kochis
• Age: 45

• Home: Bristow

• Work: Warrenton police chief, starting Feb. 3.

• Salary: $120,000

• Experience: Police officer/commander, City of Alexandria Police Department, 2004-present; police officer, City of Manassas, 2003-04; police officer, City of Roanoke, 1999-2003.

• Military: Sergeant, U.S. Army Airborne, 1993-99.

• Education: FBI National Academy, December 2018; master’s certificate, law enforcement education, University of Virginia, 2018; bachelor’s degree, Columbia Southern University, 2016; certified public manager, The George Washington University, 2014; Butler (N.J.) High School, 1992

• Community: President, Alexandria Police Commanders Association; tutor, Alexandria public schools; youth soccer coach.

• Hobbies: Brazilian jiu-jitsu

• Family: Wife and two teenage sons.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
He comes from one of the state’s larger law enforcement agencies, but Warrenton’s new police chief considers himself a small town guy.

Michael P. Kochis started Monday, Feb. 3, as the leader of Warrenton’s 32-employee department with a $3.5-million annual budget.

Chief Kochis left the City of Alexandria police force as a lieutenant and night shift Patrol Division commander after 15 years there. Alexandria’s department has a $68.8-million budget, 312 officers and 115 civilian employees.

Warrenton has about 10,000 residents and Alexandria about 159,000.

Chief Kochis, 45, grew up in Butler, N.J., with a population of about 7,000. He played high school football as an undersized defensive tackle and graduated in a class of about 100.

“Growing up in a small town is neat. I go back and I still know everybody. You don’t realize it then, but it prepares you to talk with people,” he said of his roots.

Those who’ve worked with Warrenton’s new chief describe him as approachable and calm.

“Mike has always said that when things get tough, take a step back and look at the big picture,” said Ryan Waple, an Alexandria Patrol Division sergeant on the 30-officer overnight shift, which Chief Kochis commanded.

“He’s definitely led from the front,” Sgt. Waple added. “He understands police work, builds relationships and understands that we are part of the community . . . . I’ve never seen him get mad. He sees your point of view.”

Charlotte Hall, a longtime leader in the downtown Alexandria business community, agreed. A Warrenton native, Ms. Hall worked closely with Lt. Kochis, the police department’s former liaison to Alexandria business organizations.

“Mike was always really collegial,” she said. “He seemed to check his ego at the door . . . . He wasn’t afraid to talk through issues (such as tour buses blocking downtown traffic) with us. And, he always had a nice way of saying, ‘No,’ if he had to.”

Lt. Kochis also did a lot to help merchants with crime prevention, said Ms. Hall, who did not know he had applied for the Warrenton job until the town announced his selection. Nor, did he know that she grew up here.

The new police chief said he has a 90-day plan for starting in Warrenton — with much of his early focus on getting to know the community.

Asked about the adequacy of department resources and operations during a 90-minute interview last month, he deferred: “I need to learn and I need to listen.”

After Town Manager Brandie Schaeffer late last year selected him and five others as finalists among 37 applicants for the job, Mr. Kochis accelerated his research. He asked Lt. Tim Carter, the acting chief and a 27-year veteran of the department, to meet.

Lt. Carter suggested coffee. The future chief wanted more time and asked to meet over lunch, which stretched beyond two hours.

“What I really liked about him was that, before asking me questions, he explained his leadership style first and plans for moving the department forward with things like a leadership development plan,” said Lt. Carter, the department’s longest tenured officer, who turned down the chief’s job. “What he told me was very much the same as I was thinking about.”

The future chief also stressed “openness and transparency,” Lt. Carter said. “He had really done his homework.”

What attracted him to the Warrenton police chief position, open since Louis Battle’s abrupt retirement announcement in May 2018?

“I wasn’t looking to leave the Alexandria Police Department,” Chief Kochis said. “Alexandria is a model agency. They treated extremely well. I had a wonderful relationship with Chief (Michael) Brown.”

But, the Alexandria lieutenant noticed the position opening and talked with law enforcement friends, including Fauquier sheriff’s Capt. Mark Jones, with whom he attended the FBI National Academy at Quantico in 2018.

“I’d been in Alexandria 15 years, and I’m not getting any younger,” Chief Kochis said. “I really felt like this was the right time for me and the right community. People in this community are engaged. It’s not like that everywhere.”

His research and meeting with Lt. Carter led him to conclude that Warrenton has “a great police department with a lot of good officers.”

But, Chief Kochis acknowledged: “It’s been a hard 18 months. I want (the officers) to know I understand that . . . .

“As a chief of police, you need to be a leader and a manager. There’s a difference . . . . Leading people is much more complicated.”

Part of that role means putting an emphasis on “officer wellness. We don’t talk enough about PSTD (post traumatic stress disorder),” because of some things police officers witness. “For a long while, we threw away a lot of officers. I feel, as a profession, we’re getting away from that.

“It’s important for officers to be able to take leave when they need it, especially working 12-hour shifts.”

Alexandria Sgt. Waple said of his former boss: “Mike definitely takes care of his people. He focuses on you as an individual and your personal — as well as professional — needs.”

Over the years, Lt. Kochis stood up for fellow officers, including one who sued the department for gender discrimination and four others whom Chief Brown suddenly demoted.

His tenure in Alexandria included four years leading the Narcotics Bureau, administering Narcan to save a life and helping establish the city’s drug treatment court.

Fauquier “Sheriff (Bob) Mosier’s right,” he said. “We can’t arrest our way out of the opioid epidemic.”

In Alexandria, a Narcotics Bureau detective would respond to every reported overdose and would give the drug user a disposable mobile phone — also known as “a burner” — preloaded with contacts for recovery and treatment programs, he noted. In turn, those treatment programs also had the addict’s new contact information and could attempt to help him or her.

“It’s been a very successful program,” he said.

In addition to drugs, spikes in violent crime always challenge police departments, Chief Kochis said.

Warrenton recently has experienced several violent crimes: The shooting during a drug deal in the Walmart parking lot, the New Year’s Eve stabbing outside a Warrenton bar and the Jan. 8 shooting that killed a man and left two others wounded in a Jackson Street apartment.

Because of its location, Warrenton also has more traffic than most communities its size — another challenge for the police department.

Chief Kochis said he wants to hear from the community about its priorities.

“I’ve been very careful not to come in with preconceived notions,” he said.

He will host a “Meet the Chief” event at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, at Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton. Between accepting the job last month and starting last week, he spent a lot of time in town — attending the Martin Luther King Day ceremony, participating in a crisis response planning drill with other local agencies and talking with stakeholders.

Although he has much to learn, the chief said he’d like to launch a citizens’ police academy — similar to the one the sheriff’s office started last year — and a volunteer program to receive help from retired officers.

Speaking frequently of “community inclusion” and “engagement,” Chief Kochis noted that Robert Peel’s principles in establishing the London police force almost two centuries ago remain entirely relevant.

The new chief also grew up with blue in his blood. His father retired after a career as a policeman in Edgewater, N.J. His brother serves in the New Jersey State Police.

“It’s something I was always attracted to,” Chief Kochis said.

After high school, he enlisted in the Army and rose to the rank of sergeant in the Airborne, with two tours in South Korea and assignments in the U.S. After leaving the Army, he joined the Roanoke Police Department and spent four years there before going briefly to Manassas, then to Alexandria.

“I can tell you he’s engaged,” Warrenton’s Lt. Carter said. “It looks like he’s gonna be open and transparent. Anytime you get a new leader, there’s bound to be some apprehension. But, he’s approachable; he talks to people . . . .

“I’m as excited as any time in my 27 years here.”

Contact Editor “Lou” Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.
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ajnotyega · February 11, 2020 at 6:02 pm
Welcome Chief Kochis!
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