Williamsburg Chief of Police Sean Dunn has been on the job for 90 days but is already in the process of making changes to the police department. He said that his top priorities are safety and communication within the community as well as giving the community greater visibility and a friendlier reputation.
“I think overall as a profession law enforcement has to do a better job today than ever before of facilitating positive interactions with community members,” Dunn said. “We want to be seen as friendly and approachable and highly visible, and in doing so that helps us better engage with our citizens.”
Dunn said that he particularly wants to facilitate better communication with year-round residents of Williamsburg and students at the College of William and Mary. He said that the Williamsburg community can bridge this student-resident gap through communication.
He said that he will capitalize on the inexpensive and readily available presence of social media as well as community meetings to facilitate this communication.
“I’m looking for ways that as a department we can be more engaged with our citizens, that includes both one-way communication to our public but also mechanisms for us to have a greater two-way relationship and … so we can best ensure that our priorities match the priorities of our communities,” Dunn said.
Class of 2020 President Kelsey Vita ’20 said that she was looking forward to increased communication between Williamsburg officials like the police chief and students at the College.
“I think more opportunities for open and frequent communication are the best way to bridge the gap between the City of Williamsburg and students, so I’m hoping and eager to see a stronger community relationship with the new leadership,” Vita said.
Dunn has also made changes to the WPD staff, mainly in regards to parking enforcement.
Previously there was only one part-time parking enforcement officer responsible for the City of Williamsburg, and Dunn has increased this to two full-time officers and two part-time officers for parking enforcement.
“One of the issues that I quickly identified was that we had one part-time parking enforcement officer responsible for the entire city,” Dunn said. “And it just stretched this officer way too thin and so we’re bringing on three additional staff members … that unit will be responsible for city-wide parking issues.”
According to Dunn, enforcing parking ordinances has been a weak spot for WPD, and the staff has been added to in order to increase parking compliance.
Dunn said that when some people are parking illegally, it causes frustration for other citizens who are attempting to park legally.
“We have found that a lot of folks maybe don’t have the appropriate parking decals or otherwise are parking illegally throughout the community,” Dunn said. “And that has caused quite a bit of frustration for quite a number of our citizens. So we are increasing the parking enforcement. Naturally what we hope to achieve is compliance.
In addition to increasing parking enforcement, Dunn said that he is also increasing police presence in high pedestrian traffic areas.
He said that these enhanced neighborhood patrols will be adjusted for the evening hours in places where officers typically see a higher concentration of pedestrian activity. He said that these high traffic places will be identified based on past experiences and general knowledge of the area. Dunn said that police officers can identify these areas “very easily” because of their prior experince on the job in Williamsburg.
“The goal is first and foremost to keep people safe,” Dunn said. “But secondly it’s to be a friendly and welcoming law enforcement presence that hopefully encourages positive behaviors and is a welcoming and inviting presence while discouraging negative behaviors.”
Sen. Jack Bowden ’18 said that he was appreciative of the extra patrols.
“After the shooting at The Crust last year, I am glad to hear that increased patrols by Williamsburg City police are in the works,” Bowden said.
Dunn explained that these patrols will be mostly on foot or bike and that the Williamsburg Police Department has extended an invitation to the William and Mary Police Department to conduct joint patrols. He said that WPD wants to join forces to keep the community safe.
He said that the WPD is interested in fostering increased collaboration with WMPD.
Dunn said that it would be useful to have WMPD’s relationships with students when dealing with infractions on campus. Regarding issues of difference of policy between the two institutions, such as the College’s medical amnesty policy for students, Dunn said that WPD’s highest priority is safety and that it is not out to get anyone.
“Naturally what we want is to care for our citizens, and so I would hope that [joint patrols] would not discourage our student population from making contact with us,” Dunn said. “And I can assure you that our goal is not to use those opportunities for enforcement. Our goal is to use those opportunities to provide the care and support that is needed by our community members.”
Vita said that she has many friends living in Richmond Hall so she hopes that their sometimes late walks home will be considered when planning patrol increases. She also said that the community must work together to increase safety.
“Our Williamsburg and William and Mary community needs to take steps to make sure that no students feel uncomfortable going back to their dorms at night,” Vita said.