An Exit Interview With Harrisonburg Police Chief Eric English

Sep 7, 2020

After two years as Harrisonburg's police chief, Eric English is moving back home to Henrico County to serve as chief of police there. His last day in Harrisonburg is September 10th.
Credit Calvin Pynn

Police Chief Eric English is leaving Harrisonburg to lead the police department in Henrico County.  English, who was Richmond’s police chief before coming to Harrisonburg, has spent the last two years in his job focusing on community relations and transparency in law enforcement. WMRA’s Calvin Pynn spoke with him, and asked English about what drew him back to the Richmond area.

ERIC ENGLISH: I think it just kind of came full circle.  I've lived in Henrico for over 30 years and I still have my home there. So I just thought, you know, it'd be something that I probably would regret if I didn’t pursue this opportunity, to be able to go back and be chief of police in an area that I pretty much lived there most of my life.

WMRA: How much longer are you going to be with us?

ENGLISH: The last day I’m working is September 10th, so I start down there in Henrico on the 14th.

WMRA: When you first came here in 2018, what was the biggest difference coming here to Harrisonburg and being the police chief here?

ENGLISH: Well, just coming from Richmond in and of itself, Harrisonburg to me was a lot safer city in terms of crime. There's quite a bit of property crime, so to speak, here. You deal a lot with mental health, but the violence is just not something that we typically see here in Harrisonburg, which is a great thing.

WMRA:  I know along with that too, there’s been a pretty big initiative for transparency since you've been here as well. I mean, I've seen where, arrests and use of force have all been published by year, and I think for number of arrests that goes back to 2013 on the department's website.  And of course there's a big push for more transparency and more oversight in law enforcement, but why do you feel that it's important to have that information coming directly from law enforcement itself?

ENGLISH: I think if you're trying to build trust and legitimacy in your agency, and you're trying to build partnerships and break down barriers with your community, we can no longer be so protective of information within our organizations. Most of what we do is not a secret anyway. People want to know what that data is, what the arrest data is. They want to make sure that we're abiding by our policies. They want to know what our policies are. And so all of those things I think are important for your community be aware of.

WMRA: I remember you put out a statement right after the murder of George Floyd and all the protests that were happening after, and it was incredibly powerful. I remember one of the points that stuck out there was,you don't approach policing as something as your identity, 24-7, that at the end of the day, you're still a citizen. And, given everything happening right now, what is it like to be both African American and a law enforcement officer?

ENGLISH: Well, I think at times in this profession, we sometimes forget that we, we look at it from a lens of law enforcement and there are times that you got to take that uniform off, that badge off, that gun off, that hat off, and you got to look at it from the perspective of a citizen. If I didn't do this job, what would be my thought process on the things that are going on across this country? And so it's difficult because I do understand the stressors of this job. I do understand the dangers of this job, but I also understand the discontent that many people in our community are having right now with how law enforcement has been operating.  That’s one of the reasons I stay in this business, because I know I have an opportunity to make positive change in this profession, and get this profession to the point where I want it to look like.  And that’s why I tell all folks coming into this law enforcement now – we have a prime opportunity to have this profession look like what we would want law enforcement to look like.

WMRA: What advice would you have for the next person in the job to fill your shoes here in Harrisonburg?

ENGLISH: Whoever takes this position has to maintain a relationship with your community and allow them to be a part of conversations that you have. And they don't have to be in law enforcement to have those conversations about what goes into policing. So a lot of times we don’t have all the answers, and I think it’s important for us to be able to listen to our citizens.

WMRA: I regret that we never got a chance to meet in person while you were here. I've seen you out around town plenty, but I just wanted to say thank you for your work here, and good luck in the next job.

ENGLISH: Well, I certainly appreciate it, and appreciate the conversation.

HPD announced last week that Deputy Chief Gabriel Camacho will serve as interim police chief, beginning Sept. 12.