“Making William and Mary safe, welcoming and inclusive is what this police department is here for”: Butler chosen as new Police Chief

Stephen Salpukas / The College of William and Mary

Friday, Nov. 10, the College of William and Mary named Don Butler as the Chief of the Police Department. Butler has served as interim Chief of Police since June 1 after the retirement of former Chief of Police Deb Cheesebro. He has served in law enforcement since 1992 and joined the William and Mary Police Department in 2012, where he most recently served as deputy chief. Butler also serves as interim AVP for Public Safety at the College.

“William and Mary could not ask for a finer professional to serve as our next chief of police,” Vice President of Student Affairs Ginger Ambler said in an interview with W&M News. “Don Butler brings years of experience to this critical role, and he is recognized statewide as an exceptional leader in law enforcement, emergency management and threat assessment. Most especially, Chief Butler is deeply committed to William and Mary, approaching his work with wisdom, integrity, a spirit of collaboration and an unwavering ethic of care for others. The health and safety of our campus community is ever his highest priority.”

Butler highlighted the work of former chief of Police Deb Cheesebro in creating a values-based work environment which he hopes to carry on during his tenure. 

“My former boss, Chief Cheesebro, instilled a values based policing model within our department,” Butler said. “So we have core values of integrity, professionalism, community focus and fair and impartial policing. And we do our job on a daily basis, and on a more global picture, an annual basis based on those values. We have what she coined as a ‘work family’ within the agency, so we’re supportive of each other and getting the job done and cognizant of the challenges that we face, not only at William and Mary, but in our own lives.”

Before joining WMPD in 2012, Butler spent more than two decades serving in the Portsmouth Police Department. Starting in 1992, he worked in the Uniformed Patrol, Community Policing and Special Investigations units and rose to the rank of lieutenant before retiring in December 2011. A friend and former boss at the PPD who worked at the College recommended Butler as a good fit for the WMPD, and just five days after his retirement, he joined as a lieutenant. 

“In a municipality, particularly one like Portsmouth, It has a very limited tax base, so very limited resources and resources,” Butler said. “And, resources, you know, they affect the police department staffing and equipment and technology and the resources for the community programs and stuff like that were very limited in Portsmouth. The challenges on a college campus, and William and Mary, being the one where we are, are quite different. The crimes here compared to Portsmouth, as you might imagine, are very different. Portsmouth had a significant problem with drugs, particularly heroin and cocaine and violent crime that is often associated with the drug culture, whereas at William and Mary it’s a much safer community.” 

Butler noted the positive attitude that police encounter across campus. 

“What I’ve found here is that the community, from faculty, staff and students and even the greater community, the support we get as the law enforcement agency is tremendous here,” Butler said. “That wasn’t always the case in my former job. We had a lot of people who supported us, but it was an uphill battle there. Whereas here, you know, we’ve grown to expect it and it is wonderful to have that support.”

Butler noted the department’s efforts to become closer to the student body and build relationships that go beyond emergency situations. 

“The majority of the focus of our department is students and safety, and so we try to partner with the students,” Butler said. “We have a community engagement officer for every residential building on campus, and we try to form positive relationships that aren’t only occurring when we’re, you know, summoned to a dorm for a problem. We like to be there during the good times as well.”

He noted that these efforts to connect with students help foster positive dialogue and good rapport between the police and broader Williamsburg communities. 

“When we’re building a relationship with the community out there, we’re driven by our values. And I think the community has grown to appreciate that and expect that,” Butler said. 

During his time in the WMPD, Butler drew on his experiences from PPD, as well as  statewide and national training, to bring best practices to Williamsburg. He cites the automation of the criminal investigations file and property and evidence room, as well as an updated dispatch system, as developments he is proud of leading. However, he credits the most significant development in the department to Cheesebro. 

“I think Deb Cheesebro built the culture of the police department. And we are very much ingrained in the William and Mary community,” Butler said. “And I think that it’s really important that we have the trust and respect of our community. And, you know, it’s a difficult job keeping any community’s faith 24/7. But with the help of faculty, staff and students, we’re able to do that at a pretty good clip here.”

An avid fan and longtime game attendee of the College’s women’s basketball team, Butler stays involved in the College community. Ultimately, he believes WMPD has a crucial role to play in making members of the College community feel safe. To do so, Butler believes that means being involved with the campus beyond emergencies. 

“I just want folks to know that making William and Mary safe, welcoming and inclusive is what this police department is here for,” Butler said. “We want to be an integral part of that process and an integral part of the community. We’re not the type of ‘gotcha’ police that are going to show up just during the bad times. We want to be in the community during the good times as well. And, you know, we want people to not only be safe, but to feel safe.”


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