The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

February 16, 2014

City Chief

Beckley’s new top cop is focused on community

Within his first two weeks as Beckley Police chief, Lonnie Christian has already made some major changes at the department.

“I took the organizational chart, took it completely apart, redesigned how our organization was structured, then put everybody into key places where they would best benefit the police department and the citizens,” Christian said.

The major focus is now being placed on community services — community interaction, community programs and patrols.

“Ultimately, that’s why we’re here is to serve the community and ensure we provide the best services possible.”

Christian said it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities, especially answering the nearly 1,000 service calls the department receives each month.

“We kind of forget the big picture. We have to challenge ourselves to set new goals and chart a course and reach them by involving all members of our agency.”

That’s why he has changed the leadership style at the department also. The department is structured just like the military in terms of rank (i.e. sergeant, lieutenant, captain, etc.), but Christian said he wants to change that type of thinking.

“We want to get the patrolmen and the corporals and the sergeants involved because they’re our first line supervisors and they know what’s going on out there, so we want them to become involved in the decision making process.”

No matter the rank, Christian wants everyone to have a say.

When Mayor Bill O’Brien selected Christian as the city’s chief, he said the two shared a similar leadership style, and Christian said he couldn’t agree more.

“We’ve seen eye to eye as far as how the police department needs to be more involved with the community, and of course, not just having a dictatorship or authoritarian style leadership, but actually a style that involves everybody.”

Not only does this make the department better, Christian said, but it also increases officer morale.

By allowing all the officers to become involved and have some decision making ability, Christian said he is already seeing a change in their work.

“I want to bring it back to being a place where officers enjoy coming to work and enjoy what they do every day.”

Currently, the department is only one officer shy of being fully staffed, and Christian said as soon as the city’s hiring freeze is over, he plans to fill that position.

Other changes will be made as needed — Christian said he always wants the department to be at its best and to continue evolving.

“When you feel that you’re done and that all the changes you have are finished, that’s when you become stagnant. We have to conduct rigorous self-evaluations so that we can avoid functioning at status quo.”

Christian said during the summers, he plans to do a big community outreach, starting with churches and other organizations in town.

“We want our public to get to know our officers and have that personal contact with our officers. I think that’s where we kind of failed. We answer calls, but there’s no interaction. People don’t know who our officers are and they don’t feel comfortable talking to them.”

Many cases are actually solved with information gathered from the public, Christian said.

“The more trust we can get from the public and the more comfortable they feel with the officers out there, the better we can do our job.”

- - -

Christian, a Fayetteville High School graduate, first thought of becoming a police officer when he was still in high school.

A career aptitude test said his best match would be in policing, but even after graduation, he was still undecided.

“I worked for Lowe’s Home Improvement Center and tried my hand as an emergency medical technician. I tried a little bit of everything.”

But after a while, he decided he wanted to go to college.

Four years later, Christian graduated with a criminal justice degree from Mountain State University.

“It was right around graduation time that one of the guys I was working with told me about the testing opportunity with Beckley.”

He took the test, scored fourth in his class and was hired. While at the Beckley Police Department, Christian furthered his education at MSU and obtained a master’s degree in criminal justice administration.

During his first eight years at the department, he worked night shift as a road patrol officer. He became interested in computers and the systems at the station, so he took the initiative to learn everything he could about computer crimes.

A position as the records division supervisor soon became available, so Christian applied and was hired.

He worked alongside retired Capt. Tomi Peck, and four years later, he was moved up to support services commander.

Christian had been in that position for 10 years when Mayor O’Brien named him as chief.

Christian, 42, has been married to his wife Mary for 22 years, and they have three children together — two daughters ages 12 and 21 and one 17-year-old son.

He said his family is looking to relocate a little closer to city limits in an effort to respond to any situations as quickly as possible.

In his free time, Christian said he enjoys woodworking. He said he completes both small and large projects for friends and family, such as furniture and craft items.

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com

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