Newly-hired police chief pledges ‘partnership’ between HPD and community

Kelley Warner, center, is introduced as the new police chief at a press conference with city leaders, including (from left to right) Councilmember Chris Jones, Mayor Deanna Reed, Councilmember George Hirschmann and City Manager Eric Cambell. (Photo by Bridget Manley)

By Bridget Manley, publisher

Harrisonburg city leaders hired Kelley D. Warner, a deputy chief from a Pennsylvania police force, to be the first woman to serve as Harrisonburg’s police chief. 

“With my collaborative leadership style, I look forward to leading these officers with my training and experience and take them and help them to the next level in law enforcement — and become a regional leader in law enforcement,” Warner said at her introductory news conference Friday. “From my research and first-hand accounts, the community wants to be involved with the police department. Through their partnership, it’s more important now than ever that we create that partnership and make it stronger. “

Kelley Warner addresses the media in her introductory press conference Friday, May 28.

Warner is a 32-year veteran of the Abington Township Police Department. And she has “demonstrated passion for community outreach and community policing,” Harrisonburg City Manager Eric Campbell said during a news conference Friday to announce Warner’s hiring. 

Warner’s start date has not been set, but that it will be “between 45-60 days maximum,” Campbell said.  

Campbell was among several city leaders, including Mayor Deanna Reed and two city council members, Chris Jones and George Hirschmann, who introduced Warner on Friday in front of City Hall. 

“As the first woman of color to hold the position of mayor of Harrisonburg, let me say [that] I recognize the significance of this day, as we welcome the first woman to the position of police chief of the Harrisonburg Police Department,” Reed said. 

Reed said while breaking that ceiling is a source of pride, Warner was the right person for the job. 

“I think it just shows who we are as a community, that we are open and that we want to move forward, and it’s just who we are,” Reed said. “The chief was chosen not because she is a woman, but because she is the one who can lead this department.” 

Warner was selected after a national search that included 49 applicants, from which the city narrowed the search to five finalists and conducted multiple panel and one-on-one interviews. 

Campbell said Warner impressed city staff during the hiring process by arriving a few days before her interviews to meet with community members. 

The city gathered community input during the selection process through surveys and evaluation panels to determine what residents were looking for in the next police chief. 

Campbell said city leaders were looking for certain characteristics and qualities.

“One was a chief that was accessible, one that believed in the community policing approach, one that supported career development, and one that would be an active and sustainable person within the community,” Campbell said. “And I think we got that when we decided to hire Chief Warner.” 

Warner follows Harrisonburg’s first Black police chief, Eric English. English left Harrisonburg in last fall to become the police chief of the Henrico Police Department. 

For her part, Warner said she already sees a police department that is embedded in the community. 

“I think they are doing a great job, and that was one of the things that attracted me to the department,” Warner said. “That’s what I come from, that’s my culture. When you are already welcomed in the community and liked by the community, you’re already doing good stuff.”

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