Danville Police Chief Scott Booth has been credited with drastic crime reduction in the city and building a community policing model since he arrived in 2018. At the end of October, he will leave the position to lead Roanoke’s police department.
Deputy Chief Chris Wiles will lead the department while Danville conducts a nationwide search for a new chief, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
Booth said he is proud of the Danville Police Department’s accomplishments in the last five and a half years. He said he hopes to have a similar impact in Roanoke, a city that is combating gun violence and crime. (The Roanoke Times reported this week that the city’s 2023 homicide total to date is the highest in its history.)
The following is an edited interview with Booth about some of his aspirations for his new role and his accomplishments in Danville.
How has your time in Danville prepared you for this new position?
I’ve been in law enforcement for, gosh, 28 years at this point. I started off in Richmond and did almost 20 years working up through the ranks from a patrol officer up to major, so I got my start in urban policing in a community that had a number of challenges and opportunities.
When I came here to Danville in 2018 as chief, one of the attractions to me was that Danville offered a lot of the same challenges that I had seen in Richmond, as well as opportunities. I look at Roanoke, and it’s very similar with the issues of gun violence and rising crime. Coming into Danville and building a community policing model, and working collaboratively with the community to address issues such as gun violence, has really prepared me for that.
What are you proud of from your tenure as police chief in Danville?
This has been a great experience for me. It has been the most professionally fulfilling experience of my career. We’ve had a lot of success here in a place that, prior to my coming here, they said community policing wouldn’t even work because people didn’t like the police, and the police didn’t feel comfortable really engaging with the community. We were able to do that in five and a half years here.
I was able to work with a team, because I didn’t bring anybody with me from the outside. I found talent here. I found people that shared my vision for building a police department that was community-focused and was very problem-focused and looked at having an impact in the community. We’ve done de-escalation training here. We’ve just had so many positives.
Will any of the initiatives that you developed in Danville apply in Roanoke?
In Roanoke, they already have a community policing model, they already have a level of focus on crime, they have the iSTAR team that produces a lot of good data on where crime is happening. I feel like my past experience will add value so they don’t have to build from the ground up like I did here in Danville.
I think all they need is some tweaks and some direction and focus and lots of trust and empowerment when it comes to supervisors and officers. Getting them moving in the right direction, getting them the resources they need, making sure that community voices are heard as far as what type of policing that they want in their community, and being relentless in our focus and follow-up when it comes to crime, specifically violent crime.
To me, whenever there’s a loss of life, a shooting in our community, whether it’s Danville or Roanoke, that’s all hands on deck. Everybody in the department has to be talking about what we can do to solve that crime and reduce the chances of future shootings from occurring. It’s very important, knocking down those silos making sure we’re talking.
A lot of the progress that we’ve made here is with our relationships, the relationships we’ve built with school-aged kids, the things that our community engagement team does. They have a community engagement team in Roanoke, but we have a larger one here in a smaller city. I would love to expand and really look to improve the way that they’re connecting with people. It’s very important to me that we’re actually out in the community, holding listening sessions, listening to community voices, and building programs of depth.
Some of the things that I believe that have been most successful here are things like Pass the Perspective. That’s where we have community members come in, they listen to officers talk about their daily routine, they listen to officers talk about the use-of-force scenarios that they’re sometimes put in. This gives community members a chance to have those conversations, as well as impact policy. I think that’s very important that they have a voice in that. We’ve integrated community members into a lot of the things we do here, like our hiring processes and promotion processes. I always had to have a community component to that.
I’m not sure that Roanoke has that level of depth, but I would certainly like to develop that. The fact that Roanoke has its own training academy really excites me because we can do more with the community in regards to training, and really more with officers as we expand their community training.
Something that has been helpful here for our new officers is our GREAT Program, which used to be called the Community Leadership Immersion Program. All of our officers go to four weeks of community-based training provided by community voices, community stakeholders, and I would love to create and implement something like that in Roanoke.
It’s very important to me that new officers understand the Roanoke community, or in this case, the Danville community. I think understanding the community gives him or her a leg up on the level of service they’re able to offer.
What excites you about your new role in Roanoke?
Well, there’s a little anxiety, too, I’m not going to lie. I’m most excited about the new challenge. I’m most excited about the opportunity to make the Roanoke Police Department better and to make the Roanoke community a safer place for all. I get excited about that.
I won’t say my work is done here in Danville, but I’ve seen us move so far so fast in the last five and a half years, and I would love to do that in Roanoke. I think we can. I think that there’s a community that’s hungry for some change. I think there’s a good department that is ready to be trusted and empowered. And my leadership philosophy is that I work through others. It’s not about me, it’s about what the team can do. I’m excited to go and do what we did here in Roanoke.
You’ve mentioned community a lot, and I know you had a Q&A session with the Roanoke community a few weeks ago. How did that go?
Great. It was about two hours of almost like a receiving line, where people would come in and ask me questions about my past and my experience, my views on different things in the community. They were all very thoughtful questions. I walked away from that feeling like Roanoke would be a fit for me. The fact that community folks came armed with really thoughtful questions and were willing to wait in line for sometimes over an hour really impressed me. I was just truly impressed that there was that much community connectivity already, before I even accepted the position.
Is there anything you would’ve liked to accomplish here in Danville, had you stayed longer?
Of course, we can always get better in Danville. For me, staying here would really just just be about continuing to improve processes, continuing to refine our community-based policing model, and continuing to diversify the department.
When I got here in 2018, we were about 12% African American. We’re sitting about 24% African American now, so we’re more reflective of the community. I’m very proud of that. I’ve been able to attract some really prominent members of our community, impactful members of our community. We have a couple pastors. We have coaches. We have the chairman of the school board as a police detective. That’s exciting to me. When I see that we’re doing that, I know we’re doing something right.
I know we’re building a brand that is connected with the community. We did conditional offers here last week, and it was a very diverse group that is all about coming here and making the community better. It seems to be a much different group than what I was getting five years ago. This department has really tapped into something that is bringing people in to be officers who are truly about community impact. That excites me. If I was here for 20 years, it would continue to excite me. We would continue to reduce crime here.
We’re also just getting our first batch of take-home cars in. That’s something we’ve been waiting on for a couple years because of COVID, so that’s finally happening. Being able to implement that would have been exciting. It’s exciting, but I’m ready to do that somewhere else. There’s so many things that I feel that have worked for us, and I’m ready to do that somewhere else.
What qualities do you suggest Danville look for in its search for a new police chief?
I’ve worked for so many different chiefs over the years before I became a chief, and I’ve learned from them from both their successes and their failures. I have not been perfect, but we’ve had a level of success here, and the model we built is strong. I would never take anything away from a new chief wanting to make the department his or her own.
But I think the successes we’ve had are truly astounding in five years, so I would want someone who was going to come in and maintain the policies, processes, focuses, accountability, trust and legitimacy that has delivered those results. Change for change’s sake is never good, right? If something is really working, then you’re having a true impact. Many of the things we built are having a true impact in the community. I would look for somebody that would recognize those programs that focus on accountability, and stay the course with that.
I would also want someone who recognizes that we have a phenomenal group of police officers in Danville, a phenomenal group of professional staff members that have been a part of this winning team for a long time now, and I truly believe that they can continue to take it to the next level.