Of the many things that earned Greg Mullen the job as Charleston police chief, you’d think his experience in Virginia Beach would have something to do with it. There’s surf, there’s sand, there’s ports, there’s crime. The two cities are so similar, he must have just brought the playbook with him. Not so, says Mullen.
The differences start with tourism. While Virginia Beach is a standard tourist destination, Charleston has that history-based allure that draws a different type of tourist and requires a different approach, especially during the multiple festivals held in Charleston that begin with the recent Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) and run nonstop through the summer.
“It’s a challenge,” Mullen says.
The chief has begun meeting with various festival organizers, reviewing dated protection plans and seeing where the police approach needs a change.
“The festivals are getting larger and larger each year,” he says. “You can’t work in the same framework.”
For example, Mullen notes that SEWE held a smattering of events at Brittlebank Park, requiring a different approach to police involvement.
“It’s no longer confined in the historic district,” Mullen says.
Safety isn’t just a necessity for tourists, it’s also a factor luring new residents and businesses.
“A safe environment is one of the key factors of economic development,” he says.
Creating a safe environment is certainly the main challenge that Mullen will be faced with as he gets into his first year on the job. In 2006, the City of Charleston had 22 homicides, a record high.
As Mullen introduces himself to different communities, he says violence is a frequent topic.
“They seem to be eager to help and work with us,” he says.
Under Mullen’s watch, the police presence in communities has increased. While residents would like to have a cop on every corner, Mullen says officers are getting out and walking through their neighborhoods.
The new chief is getting a lot of attention for his new approaches to the force. In December, the City Council approved nine new law enforcement positions. Mayor Joe Riley noted at the time that it was the largest growth in the police force that he could remember.
The lion’s share of that growth came in Mullen’s new “power shift.” In the past, team commanders who recognize a particular problem at a particular time on a particular block would have to pull patrol cars from their normal responsibilities. Through the power shift, every commander has a roving unit that has no fixed schedule or patrol route, making them easily shifted when necessary. Commanders can also share their power shift resources with another neighborhood when necessary to avoid taking away officers from their standard patrols.
“We’re trying to focus our attention on specific times when crime impacts specific neighborhoods,” Mullen say.
Typically, that power shift runs from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., when most crime occurs. But those officers can be moved to other times depending on what’s going on in a neighborhood, recognizing that some criminals will bide their time until the shift is over.
“Criminals are smart, they try to find patterns like we do,” Mullen says.
The chief is also beefing up the city’s pattern-finding abilities by holding weekly strategy sessions and hiring new crime analysts.
Mullen holds meetings every Monday with team commanders to review recent assaults, robberies, and narcotic busts.
“By meeting every week, we’re able to address things very quickly,” he says.
The group maps out crimes, looking for patterns and identifying where resources are coming up short. The meetings also allow commanders to see how others are handling a problem that may soon reach into their neighborhood.
“If one person has a problem, it’ll bleed over into another area,” Mullen says.
The city is also hiring crime analysts who will review investigative reports, field interviews, and other data to determine likely suspects and trends among crimes.
“They’ll take reports and pull it all together in a format that can be useful,” he says.
Virginia Beach had a similar program, but it was not nearly as involved.
“We’re hoping this will be even more successful because this will be their full function,” he says.
Mullen is looking for a particular type of candidate, including former crime and intelligence analysts and those familiar with this type of mapping.
Improving the technology that the force uses on a daily basis will be an important priority going forward, Mullen says, particularly the resources the crime analysts will need, but also including things like computer-aided dispatch. The chief is also looking at reorganizing departments and reviewing the city’s equipment needs.
Citizens can get involved in a few ways. Mullen has relaunched the city’s volunteer program, hoping to draw a variety of people, including retired law enforcement who can bring their experience to the department, or the average citizen willing to help with data entry and answering the phones.
“I’m big on getting citizens involved,” he says.
Mullen has also been courting support for an 18-pronged legislative attack on crime proposed by Mayor Joe Riley that includes improving gun-control laws relating to convicted criminals and drug dealers; increased penalties for assaults, repeat offenders and gun possession; and truth in sentencing.
While he’s looking for help in Columbia, Mullen continues to seek out ways to improve the local force.
“We’re mixing things up,” he says.
On the Web
Mayor Joe Riley and Police Chief Greg Mullen have been touring the city promoting a list of 18 legislative suggestions for combating crime. They are urging citizens to write letters to legislators in Columbia. A breakdown of the proposal and a form letter can be downloaded here: