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New Altavista police chief is ready to get his hands dirty

April 30, 2016 | Virginia News

News Image Altavista Police Chief Michael Milnor has a lofty goal for this year.

“Between now and fall, I plan to literally try to walk and knock on every door of every business and resident in this town,” Milnor said in an interview Thursday morning, the day after the town announced his hire.

“I’m going to try to take at least an hour or two every day and do that. I’m just trying to make that personal connection with the community again,” Milnor said.

The 53-year-old Campbell County resident and veteran law enforcement officer will split his time between the chief position and attending the New Chief School in Lynchburg until June 6, when he will assume chiefly duties full time.

In the meantime, Mike Jones, who has served as the interim chief since last year, said he will continue to work with Milnor through the transition.

“The whole idea is to make it seamless, and all too often police chiefs don’t get to work with the predecessors,” Jones said in a phone interview Thursday.

Jones was appointed after the former chief, Kenneth Walsh, resigned during a Virginia State Police criminal investigation last year. He since has been indicted on forgery and drug charges, and his trial is set for July.

Jones, the former Chief of Capitol Police in Richmond, said leaving Altavista will be difficult, but he is proud of the changes he brought to the department during such a tumultuous period.

“It’s a little bit bittersweet for me because I put a lot of heart and soul into that, but it’s time for me to turn it over to its new parents,” Jones said.

He will hand over the chief credentials to Milnor during a ceremony on June 6.

Milnor worked at the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years until his retirement in December 2012, a month shy of 31 years. Since then, he served as a professor of criminal justice at Liberty University, consulted higher-education institutions nationwide on Title IX compliance and served as executive director of a nonprofit for men recovering from pornography and drug addiction.

But Milnor’s roots run too deep for him to stay away. He said the town’s charm drew him back to Altavista, the community where his grandmother lived out her days.

“I love the fact that we’re here in five square miles and we’re small enough that we can have such a personal connection with every member of the town,” Milnor said. “I think that’s one of our biggest assets, is that even though we’re a small agency and we’re a small town, we can have so much more personalized police service.”

Milnor explained most of his goals are short-term ones. He will spend the coming weeks continuing to knock on doors — he’s already hit a dozen businesses — and trying to hire officers for two open positions.

The department is slotted for 13 officers, including Milnor.

He said three of the officers currently on staff are brand new to law enforcement, a challenge and a blessing at once. What the newcomers lack in experience Milnor hopes to make up for in training, which he said creates a well-rounded department and boosts morale.

This could include anything officers have a niche for, such as sex-crime investigation or advanced vehicle crash training.

“Let’s face it, in a small agency, one of the things you have to fight is the stagnancy. You don’t have a lot of upward mobility as far as promotions and all those things, so we kind of have to overcome that with other ways,” Milnor said.

In the long term, Milnor will assess where the department stands as a whole, considering everything from call volume and scheduling to staffing.

“I’m not saying I’m going to come in and change everything,” Milnor said as policy manuals sat in tall stacks on his desk. “But I think it’s my duty to come in as a new chief and look at it and just see what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong.”

The most exciting part, he said, will be jumping into the town’s daily grind.

“I’m going to be a working chief. You’re going to see me out here working an accident, or you’re going to see me answering calls. Because we’re a 13-person agency, I can’t just sit behind this desk,” Milnor said.

He paused, and then grinned.

“Plus, I’ve been retired three years. I’m ready to get out and get my hands dirty.”