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Veterans at VCU Police find service is a strong foundation for law enforcement

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Discipline. Teamwork. Leadership. Patience.

Military veterans within the Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department use those words to describe the skills they found to be most valuable in their transition from the armed services to law enforcement.

The VCU Police Department has made a dedicated effort to hiring veterans. As of November 2014, 25 percent of the department’s sworn officers have served in the U.S. armed forces. The department has veterans from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy,  including those who have served in Reserve units and the National Guard.

“We’re thankful for the time that our sworn officers have given – and still give – to safety and defense at the national level and overseas,” said Assistant Chief Chris Preuss. “Not only are we proud of their service but we understand that the professional skills they acquire in the military are a strong foundation for their career in law enforcement.”

Preuss has led efforts to recruit veterans as sworn officers.

In 2013, VCU Police was awarded a silver certification with the Virginia Values Veterans Program. The program, organized by Virginia’s Department of Veterans Services, requires a participating agency to set a goal for how many veterans it will hire and maintain. VCU Police previously held bronze certification.

The department allows for the flexible scheduling of officers to help them honor their military commitments.

Daily discipline and patience

VCU Police Officer Stephen Adt enlisted in the Army National Guard about five weeks before 9/11 and continues to serve today. He has completed two tours of duty in Iraq and joined the military police so that he would have a transferable skill into law enforcement.  

 Having combat experience has given Adt a valuable perspective into panic and patience.

“People constantly ask me, ‘How do you keep from getting mad when someone is screaming at you, or spitting on you or calling you names?’ Normally my answer is: I’ve served in combat and I’ve been shot at so you can say anything you want to me – it’s not going to ruin my day.”

In addition to keeping calm in intense situations, Adt drew parallels between being in the military and working as a police officer. He has been with VCU Police since 2009 and is currently the residential life resource officer.

“There are a lot of things that military service brings to law enforcement, such as being comfortable in a uniform and working in a chain of command,” he said.  “Discipline fits in any uniformed service. When you put on a uniform and identify yourself as part of a team, part of an organization, there’s a higher level of expectation from you. You wear it clean, take pride in it and are a representative of your organization.”

Leading with confidence

Simply put, he said the military helped him become a better leader overall.

“The military instilled a lot of discipline and teamwork. It can be pretty grueling at times but I think it teaches you to deal with stress – certainly in law enforcement there’s a lot of stress,” Butters said.

Butters has been a VCU Police officer for 16 years.

“Everything I did in the military helped me transition – helped me be a leader. The best leadership training I ever had in my life was when I was in the military,” said Butters. “I think that was an integral part to prepare me to take on a leadership role at the VCU Police Department.”

VCU Police Sgt. Duane Thorp served in the U.S. Navy from 1997 to 2002 and joined VCU Police upon finishing his service. He planned to go into law enforcement all along and remembers the lessons he learned in leadership and teamwork.

Thorp is in charge of VCUPD’s investigations unit – a group that works collaboratively on a full range of criminal cases.

“Especially being here in investigations, we’re a team and it’s the same concept here as it is in the military,” Thorp said.

Butters and Thorp found that because of similar command structures it was easier to transition into law enforcement with prior service.

Awareness and attitude

In the U.S. Marine Corps, he was always aware of what was happening at any given moment.

That keen awareness has helped VCU Police Officer Joseph Demro as he patrols the streets around VCU’s Richmond campuses.

Demro served in the Marines Corps from 1984 to 2006 and says his prior service experience was the biggest factor in how he came to work at VCU.

“To be a police officer I have based everything off of being a Marine,” Demro said. “From leadership schools, to working with experienced operators in the field to being a professional, the training and discipline have been very spot on. It made me who I am today.”

VCU Police Officer E. Sonny Pryor shared a similar sentiment. Pryor served four years in the U.S. Air Force as a law enforcement specialist before coming to VCU Police in 2005. He also has fire/EMS experience.

“My whole career has pretty much involved anything with lights and a siren,” Pryor said. “You always revert back to your training, do what you’re trained to do, remember what you’re trained to do. It’s all by policy and procedure and that’s something that I learned very, very early on.”

Like many other veterans with VCU Police, Pryor’s military service has fallen in line with what’s expected of him in policing every day.

“If it’s law enforcement or related to public safety and there’s a chain of command, you know what the expectation is as opposed to someone who hasn’t had that experience,” Pryor said. “You definitely need the correct attitude and discipline to work in law enforcement.”


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