May 24, 2016

Delco police chief seeks to mend relationship with community, especially young African-Americans

Police Leadership
05022016_chief_regina_price Credits/Price: Riviera Beach Police Department; car: Darby Township Police Department

A big priority for new Darby Township Police Chief Regina Price is mending the perception of police in today’s society, especially among today’s young African-American people. “It’s a relationship that is broken at this point and it has to be repaired,” she said. “There will be steps taken...."

Regina Price cares greatly about history.

That may be because the newly-minted police chief of Darby Township, Delaware County, has had a habit of making it over the span of her 30-year law enforcement career.

She was the first African-American female sergeant in Palm Beach County, Florida, where she’s originally from; the first black female lieutenant there; the first-and-only black female commander; the highest-ranking black female commander as a major, and the second-highest ranking black female police officer in Palm Beach County.

Now sitting behind the desk, with a bronze female Indian chief positioned prominently on top of it, Price finds herself in rare company as a female African-American police chief in Pennsylvania.

“History does mean something to me, because it’s very humbling,” Price said. “I am pretty much a meat-and-potatoes person. I am here to do a job. I don’t want people to concentrate on the fact that I’m a black female police chief. I want them concentrate on the fact that I am qualified for the job. Is my training experience going to help fix whatever ails this department? That’s what I want to be mostly known for – that I came in to do a job. I actually prefer that over making history.”

Price has a very even voice that commands respect. Its foundation is based on a stable upbringing. Raised in Palm Beach County, she attended Cardinal Newman High School and excelled academically. She felt compelled to aid her community by working for the police department in Riviera Beach, a predominantly African-American city of 33,000.

"Some of our main subjects are in their teens and they’re getting younger. They also have less respect. When I was younger, I could go to a corner and say, ‘Gentlemen, you gotta go.’ And they would say, ‘No problem, Miss Price, we’re leaving.’ Now, you’re going to get answered back, and it’s not going to be a nice answer." – Chief Regina Price, Darby Township police

Now she’s gone from being a major on the 114-officer force in that Atlantic Coast resort city of 34,000, to Darby Township, which has a population of just over 9,000 and a force of about 25 full-time and part-time officers.

There’s no question she can deal with it.

“My goal in life has always been to help people, so I got into police work in 1986 when I was in the academy,” said Price, who obtained her undergraduate degree in law enforcement and graduate degrees in public administration from Barry University, a private, Catholic university in Miami, Florida. “My family was initially shocked that I went in law enforcement. I think that’s because I wasn’t an extrovert, but I always liked helping people. It grew on them. My dad was OK with it.

“The first few years were tough, because the initiation, so they say, is to make sure I can go out and do everything they (male) police officers can do. I proved myself to my male counterparts that I could jump fences and chase down criminals. It was pretty rough, because they gave me such a hard time being a female. I was typically the only female on my shifts. I had to hold my own.”

When Price became a police officer in her early 20s, there was still a stigma attached to female police officers. It was a racially-mixed police force. But the biggest issue, she said, were the sexual jokes.

“I would tell them I didn’t want to hear (those jokes) around me. I’m not shy about telling people what they can and can’t do around me, and they have rules and regulations about those type of things," she said. "I was like, ‘Nah, not around me.’ It is like a locker room. The officers understand certain things can’t happen around me, because I’m going to tell them. I’m a by-the-book person who doesn’t tolerate foolishness. Certain things will not happen around me, because I have certain expectations. I have met with a couple of my officers already, and in the meeting, I explained to them my expectations as far as what I want from them.

“I want a professional environment. That’s what I expect," she continued. "And that’s what I’m going to give. That’s what I received on the way up. I’m a pretty astute person who’s not going to play around. They know who I am...."

'WE THOUGHT SHE WAS PHENOMENAL' 

In addition to the gender gap, Price made it through school juggling her family and three sons, who were all active in sports.

Price stressed, however, that she was treated equally during her career movement in Florida. As she rose through the ranks and neared retirement with Riviera Beach, she began looking elsewhere for opportunities.

A friend broached the idea of joining Darby Township. Through her association with the International Association of Police Chiefs, Price also learned of other positions open in Durham, North Carolina, and Jupiter, Florida. 

She did her homework and liked the atmosphere in Darby Township. One of 11 applicants to replace former Police Chief Leonard McDevitt Jr., who retired, her abundant experience soon made her one of six finalists. 

Price’s resume leaped out at Richard Womack, Darby Township police commissioner and township commissioner.

“After looking at Chief Price’s resume and application, it really stood out,” Womack said. “It was very impressive. We felt like she should be a part of the interview process. We thought she was phenomenal. It was structured to have a second tier of interviews, and we narrowed the list to three. Chief Price was one of the three, and the second interview took place with the Board of Commissioners. They unanimously came back and felt Chief Price would be the best fit for our police department.”

Police work, pretty much, is the same wherever it is done. Price is still getting used to the environment of Darby Township, the only geographically split municipality in Pennsylvania, not only by lines on a map, but along racial, socio-economic lines as well.

She’s seen the metamorphosis of police work.

“Police work means being able to adapt, but essentially, police work is police work,” Price said. “Today, you have more resources to do your job. Back when I started, you wrote out reports. You swipe a driver’s license and produce a ticket. Equipment and training is different, which is a big thing for me. When I became a police officer, we had defensive tactics, which was hands-on, and we went through the continuum of force as far as verbal judo, to side-handle batons. Now, we can go even further, you have Mace and Tasers.

LEARNING THE COMMUNITY

When she got into police work, it was more community-oriented policing, she said. Today there is more technology, and the average age of people committing crimes is skewing way younger than the 25-31 age range seen decades ago.

"Some of our main subjects are in their teens and they’re getting younger. They also have less respect," she said. "When I was younger, I could go to a corner and say, ‘Gentlemen, you gotta go.’ And they would say, ‘No problem, Miss Price we’re leaving.’ Now, you’re going to get answered back, and it’s not going to be a nice answer.

“I’m still assessing what’s going on. I’ve been in the community and looking around. I want to assess the needs of my officers first, before I actually get out. We’ll be addressing issues within the community and I want to go over some plans .... Everyone has a drug-problem area, and that’s something that will be addressed in the near future.”

Finally, Price is learning the community on her own. But a big priority for her is mending the perception of the police in today’s society, especially among today’s young African-American people.

“It’s a relationship that is broken at this point and it has to be repaired,” Price said. “There will be steps taken. The average person does not hate police officers. The perception, I think, that the community has about law enforcement is because of these incidents that are made public. It’s not just happening in Darby Township. It’s happening throughout the country. I patrolled the same community where I grew up, and they welcomed the police. Most people are proud of law enforcement. The profession itself has taken a nosedive, but I think it can come back and we can repair the relationship."

“There is a big difference between TV and reality and these kids don’t like the police is because they don’t have good interaction with the police. That’s because it’s learned and they may not have good parenting at home...They don’t know what police officers do and what their responsibilities are."

“People may have the wrong perception about me, but I was out there and in uniform 95 percent of my career," she said. "I’m not immune to not being out there, and I won’t know what’s going on in the community without being out there.”