Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew’s love of policing comes honestly. His grandfather was police chief in New Madrid, Ohio, a community with 800 people and two police officers.
As a child, Drew watched intently as his grandfather successfully led the small department and won the hearts of town residents. “He used to let me walk with him,” Drew says. “People would be sitting on their porches. When he walked by, people would leave their porches and were grateful to talk to him. With his hand on my shoulder, he would tell me, ‘It’s all about how you treat people.’”
Fast forward many decades, and Drew has diligently tried to continue his grandfather’s tradition of being chief of the people.
Drew, 51, came to Newport News as chief after 25 years with the Richmond Police Department. He never expected to lead a force like the Newport News Police Department, but when a co-worker suggested he apply, he did, and in July of 2018, he took the reins of a department that has more than 400 officers and protects a city of about 185,000 citizens.
Drew has worked tirelessly to lead with his values and a passion for community, department and progress. His foundation is supported by ensuring his priorities stay front and center. He focuses on officers and community. Both, he says, are critical for the department to be effective and forward thinking. The department must also prioritize effective training to ensure officers have the tools needed to uphold the law in a just manner. He is a huge believer in hatching proactive ideas that bring officers and residents together regularly to open communication, start dialogues and forge positive relationships.
“I believe it all goes back to the relationship we have with the community,” Drew says. “For us, race, gender, zip code don’t matter. We treat all people with respect, fairly.”
Drew has placed citizens on both use-of-force review boards and interview panels. He has also named 24 students as young adult police commissioners and meets with them every Wednesday to hear their viewpoints, ideas and concerns. Focusing on youth, Drew says, is at the top of his list.
During his years at the department, Drew has worked to enhance the transparency the department has with the community. He regularly holds Facebook chats, attends community functions and involves citizens in as many different ways as possible. He attends high school football games every weekend, walks neighborhoods and is on the scene of major crimes.
“I can’t run a department by sitting in an office,” says Drew. “I go to homicide scenes to show support. It’s important to lead by example.”
Drew knows that current events over the years have changed public opinion of law enforcement, but he is confident that Newport News police officers are trained in the best methods and are armed not just with a weapon, but also with knowledge, compassion and the ability to treat people with kindness and fairness.
“Culture shifted and there were a lot of negative feelings toward law enforcement. We make mistakes. We don’t get it all right,” Drew says. “But we have to be transparent and open when we get it wrong. It starts at the top.”
To make sure that happens, Drew has implemented enhanced training for new officers. Recruits spend 1.5 months longer in training than required. They are also expected to perform community service while in the academy to better understand their community.
Recruiting officers can be challenging, but Drew has made it a priority. He has also implemented goals such as hiring more Spanish-speaking officers and more women.
Drew has set his sights on improving the department’s technology and increasing innovative programs that provide substantial support to residents with special needs.
NNPD has partnered with the Community Services Board and the Newport News Fire Department to initiate a program called CARE (Community Assistance Response), focused on people experiencing mental or behavioral health issues. The CARE team includes a paramedic and a mental health professional. This program is designed to help people in crisis in a non-threatening way.
In terms of technology, NNPD is using shot spotters and license plate readers and is the first department in Virginia to have software that integrates apartment complex cameras with the department’s camera system. Every officer wears a body camera. But instead of capturing 30-second snippets, the cameras record four to six minutes. “We are always looking at ways to do things better,” he says.
Drew has formed strong partnerships with government leaders and has been pleased at how they have worked with the department. “We are very blessed in this city to have a mayor, city manager and council that support the police department,” he says. “They ask hard questions, and they should. When something major happens, they always ask, ‘do you need me there?’ That kind of support matters.”
Drew is a fast thinker who has rapid-fire ideas. He is not one to be idle or satisfied with the status quo. He describes his personality as “compassionate, driven and focused.” He loves baseball and is a faithful church goer, saying the Bible “keeps me grounded.” Drew says he has loved being chief.
“I will stay here as long as the city wants me,” he says with a smile. “I care about the men and women who do their jobs and care about the community.”