Interim chief takes helm in town

The town of Louisa’s interim police chief comes with more than 44 years of law enforcement experience, all of it with Henrico County.

Tom Leary was hired last week to replace Randall Skeen, who served as the town’s police chief for about a month before he was placed on administrative leave in July. Skeen resigned in August; town officials would not say what prompted his quick departure.

Leary enters the job as the town grapples with how or whether to rebuild its auxiliary police program. Most of the town’s auxiliary officers, who are volunteers but perform some of the same duties as paid staff, quit after Skeen left. They criticized town officials for not keeping them more informed about the chief’s status.

Leary had retired in June from his role as a deputy chief in Henrico. He heard about the interim position in Louisa from the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

While the town’s roughly 1,600 residents are few in number compared to the 300,000 population of Henrico, Leary expects his policing strategies to be similar. He intends to continue some of the community policing methods that Ronnie Roberts promoted as chief before he resigned in May.

“It’s about getting out of your car to speak with citizens and business owners,” Leary said. “Communication is the key. Community policing sounds modern, but a lot of the principles are just good old-fashioned talking to people. It helps people have confidence in you, and makes them more likely to tell you about crimes that are happening.”

Henrico County does not have an auxiliary police program. Leary said whether or not the town reinstates its auxiliary, the priority should be to have well-trained officers that meet standards set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.

At their Sept. 17 meeting, the Louisa Town Council briefly discussed the potential to seek accreditation for the police department. Leary said he is a team leader with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a national credentialing agency based in northern Virginia. He has traveled to other parts of the country to assess police departments’ policies and procedures and workforce standards.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for smaller police agencies,” Leary said.

Town manager Liz Nelson said the council hired Leary to serve the town through the end of 2019. Toward the end of the interim period, the town will have to decide whether to hire Leary on a more permanent basis or go in another direction.