PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Petersburg’s new police chief, Bill Rohde, has been on the job for nearly a month. On Friday, he is speaking out about his vision for the department for the first time, sharing his vision for the department during an exclusive interview with 8News reporter Parker Slaybaugh.
“I care about the department, I care about the people,” Rohde said.
Rohde joined the Petersburg Police Department for the first time 39 years ago before retiring last September.
“This has been most of my life this department,” he added.
So when Acting City Manager Dironna Moore Belton turned to him for help after firing the city’s former police, John Dixon III, Rohde felt a need to answer the call.
“If I could do something to improve things or get them headed in a good direction, and after talking to Miss Belton about what her ideas were, I thought they were things that I could positively impact,” Rohde explained.
One thing Chief Rohde says he wants to improve is transparency with the public.
“It’s important what they perceive, and if we can give them facts and give them the truth then that can positively impact what their perception of things” he said.
Rohde says some complaints he has heard from his officers about the former police administration included a lack of freedom and feeling micro managed. Rohde says he has tried to fix that.
“They feel more free to do their job, they don’t feel like they are going to be second-guessed as much,” he explained. “The previous Chief and I have very different personalities. I told them in a staff meeting today, I want you people to go out there and do their job, and if they make a mistake let’s make it a learning experience, if possible. Now, there are just some mistakes you can’t tolerate.”
But Rohde also says there are some things the former chief instilled he hopes to continue.
“One of the good things, and there were a number of good things with the previous chief, one of the good things was he got the officers involved in the community and they said it has slacked off of late, we need to get back out there,” he said.
Rohde also said the department is nothing without the men and woman who wear the badge and those behind the scenes supporting them. That’s why one of his main objectives is improving officer morale, something Belton also asked him to focus on.
“She didn’t go into what she heard about it, but basically (she) said you need to be very conscious of morale,” Rohde said. “People who are happy at their workplace do a better job, they interact with the public better.”
But improving morale in a department and city strapped for cash can be difficult.
“At the moment we don’t have a lot of money, we can’t give them big raises,” he explained. “We’re in need of cars, we’re getting some. Cars are a big thing to police officers because it’s their office.”
Rohde added that the small things can make a big difference.
“The previous chief had taken the employee lounge as his office, and he had some reasons why he thought that was important, and in doing so he also took the ladies restroom which had a shower and made the men’s restroom the ladies and men went downstairs,” Rohde said.
He says that wasn’t taken well by many and left all with no place to enjoy a quick break from work.
“They would hurry home just to take their break and eat,” Rohde said.
One of the first things he did was give up the large office for something much smaller.
“There was a chief’s office that was good enough for four chiefs before, so the first thing I started doing was to get out and turn that back into the employee lounge,” Rohde said.
It’s a move he says has meant more to his staff than some may realize.
“We’ve been able to scrimp and scrounge and get a couple tables, the city had some chairs in storage, there was already a TV in there,” he said. “I mentioned today to the guys, you know, look for ways, things like that that we can do for the officers to make sure they know we appreciate them and try to make their life a little better.”
Rohde saying he hopes when his time as interim chief is up he leaves the department better than he found it.
“And I hope that when the next chief comes in that we’re gotten things going in the right direction,” Rohde said.