FROM COURT TO COP
Harrisonburg’s chief of police, ex-Spiders guard English knows law-enforcement tests
Eric English started as a senior guard and averaged 12 points on the University of Richmond’s 1989 NIT team. Earlier, he played on two Spiders NCAA tournament teams. While English was at UR, the Spiders went 23-7 (12-2 CAA), 15-14 (8-6 CAA), 26-7 (11-3 CAA), and 21-10 (13-1 CAA).
English then joined the Richmond Police Department, with the long-range goal of FBI work. After about two months as a policeman, English determined that the FBI was no longer in his future. He had discovered his career path.
“I just loved what I was doing,” said English, who came to UR from Mebane, N.C., which is near Burlington.
For years, English worked as a Richmond patrol officer in a cruiser, and as a bike officer. He was assigned numerous cases involving illegal drugs. He investigated property crimes. He served on the force’s instructional staff.
English, a criminal justice major at UR who earned his master’s in public administration at VCU, elevated to Richmond’s deputy chief in 2011, and in 2018 became the chief of police in Harrisonburg.
In these trying times of social unrest and loud calls for police reform, English, who turns 53 in July, took time Tuesday to answer some questions from The Times-Dispatch about law enforcement and its frontliners, police officers.
Question: How do you approach the way things are right now?
Answer: You’ve got to understand the history of policing. I don’t ever feel that the public is mad at me personally. I feel like they’re mad at the profession, which I understand.
As many people will tell you, there are a lot of men and women doing the very best they can, and doing a heck of a job, in policing in their particular areas.
Question: Do you have a message that you generally deliver to Harrisonburg residents, or to people during your time in Richmond, when things get a bit fractured between the police department and citizens?
Answer: I think the key is that your department has to be open and transparent about what you are doing. I found that here in Harrisonburg [recently], I’ve had several situations where people have either emailed me or called me, and I had to go before one of the peaceful protests and answer questions. Everybody has the concept that whatever is happening across the country is happening in your organization.
A lot of times, that is so far from the truth. We don’t all have the same policies and procedures. Policing is different in whatever part of the country you’re in. I do agree that there needs to be police reform, but what I just tell people is get to know what the department is actually doing, rather than saying, “What’s happening in Minneapolis happens in Richmond, or happens in Harrisonburg.”
We all police differently, and it all depends on who’s at the helm of that organization [as to] how that organization operates. Unfortunately for us, we get painted with that broad brush, and that has come to be expected in the profession we’re in.
Question: You were a longtime high school basketball official in the Richmond area. Is that experience helpful in police work?
Answer: The concepts are very similar in that you’re trying to stay out of it as much as you can. While you’re trying to resolve issues in law enforcement and officiating, there are rules. Your job is to enforce the rules. Try to minimize it as best you can and try to stay out of it, but still try to resolve the issue.
I try to use those concepts and they work really well in both professions. I do see the correlation there.
Eric English has been Harrisonburg’s chief of police since September of 2018. As a senior guard, he averaged 12 points on the University of Richmond’s 1989 NIT team.
Guard Eric English played on two NCAA tournament teams and an NIT team while at the University of Richmond from 1986 to 1989. He averaged 4.9 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 115 games.
Eric English was a longtime official of high school basketball games in the Richmond area.