New Nitro police chief wants more community-oriented department
NITRO, W.Va. -- Brian Oxley always knew he would be a police officer.
Nitro's new police chief grew up in a family of officers. Both his stepfather and grandfather served with the West Virginia State Police. His mother was a civilian working with the State Police, too.
Even Oxley's wife, Leslie, works for the Regional Jail Authority.
"You grew up seeing them come home in the uniform, seeing the car parked in the driveway," recalled Oxley, 39. "You can't go to a Thanksgiving dinner or family reunion without hearing police story after police story."
Oxley grew up in Alum Creek, and graduated from George Washington High School in 1991. He got his first job in law enforcement in 1995, working in the regional jail system as a corrections officer.
Oxley spent two years as a campus police officer at West Virginia State University before going to work for the Nitro Police Department in 1998. He's been there ever since.
Last month, in one of his first acts in office, newly elected Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt appointed Oxley as police chief, replacing longtime Nitro Police Chief Jack Jordan. It's a job that will take some getting used to.
"I'm not a desk sitter and talker," Oxley said, fidgeting behind his wooden desk in the chief's office downtown.
"I have to learn to sit up here," he said. "This is awkward for me."
But Oxley is no stranger to administrative duties. For the past year or so, he has been working on an integrated citywide crime watch program designed to make it easier for citizens and police to get to know each other and work together.
"I don't want a neighborhood watch," he said. "I don't want one or two people out patrolling.
"When the criminals come to Nitro and see those blue reflective crime watch stickers, they know that they have to worry about not only the police department, but that every citizen in Nitro knows how to get in touch with the police."
During the years, Oxley thinks town residents have gotten farther away from their hometown police. Citizens are reluctant to call their officers unless they have a major emergency.
"I don't feel we were as accessible to the public as we need to be," he said. "911 is now in Charleston. We've almost lost that small town feeling."
Oxley wants to change that. Through the crime watch program, he wants residents to get to know their officers. He is setting up a Facebook page and an email system so citizens can contact police about anything from loud music or trees blocking streetlights to complaints or tips about drug dealers.
Oxley also plans regular community crime watch meetings, where citizens can come and talk with police about community concerns and problems, and where police can present information and helpful tips to residents. Each meeting will have a theme or topic that will be covered. Oxley hopes to schedule the first community meeting in September.
The latest addition to the crime watch program is a text-messaging system that went online last month.
Oxley said he and Capt. James Agee of the St. Albans Police Department came up with the idea independently, at almost exactly the same time, after reading about similar systems in a magazine article. Through the system, subscribers can get police department text messages or emails about anything from impending storms to alerts about accidents, emergencies or crimes.
Nitro used the new system for the first time last month to send pictures of suspects to citizens after a downtown jewelry store was robbed.
Oxley said it was a good thing that he and Agee came up with the exact same idea at almost the exact same time, because most people who live in the twin cities of Nitro and St. Albans can sign up to get messages from both cities.
Oxley also wants to get the good word out about the police department.
"I want to be accessible," he said. "We're going to do more press releases on stuff. How do the citizens of Nitro know what we're doing if we don't put it out?
"I want to get our reputation back as being the best-trained, most professional police department in the [Kanawha] Valley," he said.Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1215.