Mary Gavin, Chief of Police Falls Church Police Department, on what’s it’s like to work in law enforcement ~
“Once I got into the profession, I tell you I loved it. It’s like the front seat of life you see people at their very best. You see a lot of people at their very worst, but the camaraderie within the profession, is very real and genuine.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town, Andy Ockershausen, and I have the pleasure today to talk to a wonderful lady who is a cop. I used that term in admiration. She’s a wonderful, wonderful example of somebody that really worked hard to get what she’s got. She’s the Chief of Police for Falls Church. Mary Gavin welcome to Our Town.
Mary Gavin: Thank you, Andy. Thank you for that nice introduction.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, it’s so incredibly important that we try to be diversified in our life and we try to diversify with our podcast and you know we had Chief Newsham on and we had Tom Manger and I said, we got to have a female because that’s the right thing to do. Lo and behold, there you were with WRAP. And, I found you through the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which I was one of the founders of when we started the thing 40 years ago. Can you believe that? It’s been a great effort and WRAP has done a good job, Mary.
Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) Saves Lives
Mary Gavin: WRAP has done a phenomenal job. WRAP saves lives and we just had our recognition back last week, last Friday.
Andy Ockershausen: Yup. It was a breakfast and I didn’t go …
Mary Gavin: It’s one of the most meaningful award ceremonies we have.
Andy Ockershausen: Maggiano’s.
Mary Gavin: Yep. Yep. Maggiano’s and we get to celebrate as a region. All of the successes of the effort against the- in the fight against drunk driving and we also get together with those that have lost loved ones and reflect on the lives of those in this region that oh so tragically have been taken from us. But the best part of it is actually the camaraderie between all of the departments, the Chiefs, in recognizing the young officers that are out on the front-line every day making arrests and making people safe.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, it’s an incredible organization to bring all these people together and yet knowing it and being a part of it for all of these years. I’ve been lucky to know all these people. We still have an enormous problem with drunk driving. It just drives me crazy, but I don’t know how you stop it. It’s just incredible people still get in a car drunk.
Takes Commitment from Every Discipline to Drive Drunk Driving Numbers Down
Mary Gavin: You’re right and it takes the whole town, the whole region …
Andy Ockershausen: Everybody.
Mary Gavin: And from every discipline, from the entertainment world to like Lyft has come into this, Uber has come into this, Budweiser, Miller, Coors. There’s a lot of entities that are involved and that’s what it takes. It takes every discipline to kind of think through what’s their responsibility in driving the numbers down and creating …
Andy Ockershausen: It’s incredible.
Mary Gavin: A safety net .
Andy Ockershausen: Mary, I’ll give you a little trivia. Our first real sponsor of drunk driving was Anheuser Busch. They jumped in it with both feet in the early 70s and they knew it was in their self protection to protect themselves with this drunk driving thing. But Mary, I’m so interested in you because not only are you a female and a cop, but you’re an important person. You’re Chief of Police and you also served in other jurisdictions. So you really have an overview of Our Town. And I think that’s fortunate. You went to school here. You went to grammar school and high school. Correct? In Virginia?
Mary Gavin – Fairfax County, Virginia, Born and Raised
Mary Gavin: I did. I grew up in Fairfax County, born and born in Fairfax Hospital and raised in Fairfax County. Most of my family at the time, extended family and cousins were all in Arlington. My parents grew up in Washington DC. They’re both Washingtonians which is kind of unusual? So I’m very much a part of this whole region.
Andy Ockershausen: You certainly are and in your service in the department before Falls Church, you were in Arlington, which was people that aren’t really familiar with the suburbs. They still think it’s part of Fairfax and that Falls Church is part of Arlington. So it’s all mixed up, but you have many jurisdictions out there. So working together is very important, I’m sure of that.
Career in Law Enforcement – Arlington County Police Department | Falls Church Police Department
Mary Gavin: Absolutely. Growing up in this profession in Arlington was a real, it was a pleasure, but it was a real honor. I mean, Arlington’s police department is one of the top departments, I believe, in this region, if not nation. One of the first accredited departments in this nation.
I proudly served in Arlington for 22 years and had a variety of opportunities and assignments. From midnight patrol was where I started, to going up through the chain of command and going … I worked a lot in the school systems, worked with the officers in the school as a supervisor and then went to criminal investigations …
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
Mary Gavin: And then finally I landed in Vice Narcotics, was my last assignment there. After 22 years, I was actually approached to apply for the Falls Church Deputy Chief position.
Andy Ockershausen: You were recruited Mary …
Mary Gavin: Yup.
Andy Ockershausen: And I see why?
Mary Gavin: Well I think …
Andy Ockershausen: You had experience. That’s what they needed in Falls Church.
Mary Gavin: Well, thanks. Thanks Andy. I was very grateful for the call and …
Andy Ockershausen: I’m sure.
Mary Gavin: And so I applied and obviously I took the position as a Deputy Chief over there in 2007 and it was absolutely challenging times for me you know …
Difference Between Jurisdictions by the Numbers
Andy Ockershausen: How big a jurisdiction is Falls Church compared to Arlington? It’s not as big as Arlington, of course.
Mary Gavin: Yeah. Everything about …
Andy Ockershausen: What is it? About 100,000 in Falls Church?
Mary Gavin: No. Everything in Falls … Arlington County is probably around 275,000 people.
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
Mary Gavin: And Arlington is about 26 point two square miles. Well, everything about Falls Church is a 10th of the size of Arlington.
Andy Ockershausen: I see.
Mary Gavin: So it’s two point four square miles. The budget’s about a 10th of the size. Everything’s about the 10th of size. It’s almost as if it’s a beat, like in police beats …
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
Falls Church – Diverse | Dense | Beautiful Community
Mary Gavin: In police talk it would be like a beat in Arlington, but it’s very diverse. It’s very dense. It’s a beautiful community. It’s got it …
Andy Ockershausen: You have all the problems that everybody else said. You have traffic problems, I know that.
Mary Gavin: Yes we do.
Andy Ockershausen: I see that a lot of times on 66 because Falls Church is always a stop or going through there and a State Theater. When I grew up State Theater, nobody went there because it was too far out in the woods. Nobody’s going to go there now. Now it’s a Champions all of your places over there.
Mary Gavin: Falls Church has got a little bit of everything. It’s got, like you said, it’s bordered by some interstates with 66. It’s got some main thoroughfares with what would be Lee Highway in Arlington and Washington Street and Falls Church. The State Theater is an institution, a staple in the community that keeps thriving. It brings all kinds of concerts to us.
Andy Ockershausen: It used to be a movie theater period. I know, but as I said, it was too far out, so we never went there. So I’m talking to Mary Gavin about being the Chief of Police of Falls Church and I would say that that’s quite an honor and we’re going to talk about that, but I want to go back and talk to about your … Where did you learn all these skills? And we talk about Our Town. This is Andy Ockershausen. We’ll be right back.
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Announcer: You were listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen, brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. I’m talking to Mary Gavin about her life in Northern Virginia because she went to school there and then she was a great athlete and became a field hockey player. Mary, tell us about that.
Woodson High School | Field Hockey | East Kentucky University
Mary Gavin: Well, you’re right. I went to Woodson High School, which is in Fairfax City. Right on the border there of Annandale and Fairfax. I played field hockey and I was recruited to Eastern Kentucky University where I …
Andy Ockershausen: That was a surprise to me. Eastern Kentucky is not in the great jurisdiction of the state of Virginia, but they got you and you probably took a good revenge of beating the Richmond teams, but Mary, that you love Kentucky.
Mary Gavin: I did. I did love Kentucky. I mean I never dreamed of going to Eastern Kentucky, but once I got down there I really did enjoy it. It’s a beautiful country. It’s much like Virginia, but it’s a little different.
Andy Ockershausen: I didn’t know about Lexington, I thought Lexington was in the middle of the state, but it’s not.
Mary Gavin: Well, it actually is central. Eastern Kentucky University is not as eastern as it sounds.
Andy Ockershausen: How big is the campus?
Mary Gavin: The campus, I think at the time when I was there, it was probably about 14,000.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s a good size.
Mary Gavin: Yeah, it was.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Good Sports University and Good School for Criminal Justice
Mary Gavin: It was it was, actually it was a good sports university. It was a good school for criminal justice. It’s actually where all of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Criminal Justice all comes together, all their police academies, their State Police Academy. They have a great college of crim- It used to be the criminal justice … College of Criminal Justice. Now they call it something different, but having said that, I did get a degree in criminal justice from Eastern, had a great field hockey career and I came out in one piece and when I …
Andy Ockershausen: Right now it’s universal. There’s a lot of women and girls, playing field hockey. It’s a big thing now. I don’t think it was that big 20, 30 years ago. I’ve been reading about it all the time now.
Mary Gavin: Well it was actually competitive probably with soccer back in the time and soccer wasn’t as big then, but now you’ve got Lacrosse, you’ve got soccer, you’ve got field hockey, a lot of options for girls, which is an awesome thing I think.
Andy Ockershausen: I think that’s great.
Mary Gavin: It is.
Andy Ockershausen: Title 9 has done a lot of that and it has forced these universities to take a look at their female attendees and plan for them and I think that’s been great for everybody, for men as well as women.
Remembering Title 9 in the 80s
Mary Gavin: It is. Title 9 has brought a lot of things to light and I recall when I was in Kentucky in the 80s, that we were actually interviewed in regards to the quality on Title 9 issues versus the women taking vans to games versus the men taking either planes or buses. We’re eating box lunches versus the men going to restaurants. So there were a lot of those little issues …
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
Mary Gavin: That were going on at the time and we were being interviewed about it. So, you know, I love sports of all kinds …
Andy Ockershausen: I can tell.
Mary Gavin: And so I love to see the promotion of any sport, but particularly women, women in college that have the opportunity that I did to go to college and to have it paid for based on your extra curricular or …
Andy Ockershausen: What they’ve been doing for men for 2 or 3 hundred years.
Mary Gavin: Right. Right.
Andy Ockershausen: They finally recognize that women deserve that.
Mary Gavin: Yeah. We were very fortunate. I felt very fortunate for the opportunity and I jumped on it. I took full advantage of it.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, that led you to come back here. If you graduated, you came back to the area and you went to Arlington or did they come after you?
Mary Gavin: Well, it’s, you know, I came back to this area because I love this area.
Andy Ockershausen: Your mom and dad were here.
Mary Gavin: My mom and dad and my family were here. I came back actually and I worked just about two, three weeks at Magruders. So if you remember, Magruders and I was a cashier at Magruders for a period of time.
Andy Ockershausen: On Connecticut Avenue?
Working in Law Enforcement is Like The Front Seat of Life
Mary Gavin: No, I was out in Camp Washington in Fairfax and so at the time I was applying for Arlington police and a couple other jurisdictions. Arlington picked me up first and I kind of fast tracked through the Arlington process and I became an Arlington Police Officer. I never … It wasn’t one of these things that I aspired to be all my life, but once I got into the profession, I tell you I loved it. It’s like the front seat of life you see …
Andy Ockershausen: That was a great expression, the front seat of life. That’s a good point. You see it all.
Mary Gavin: You do. You see it all. You see people at their very best. You see a lot of people the very worst, but the camaraderie within the profession, is very real and genuine. I know it’s a profession in crisis right now and needs some significant change and . . . , but it will tell you so many good people working on that and for criminal justice reform and …
Andy Ockershausen: And Arlington now is going through a huge expansion which you’re going to feel in Falls Church that inevitable, this whole thing that’s happening, but you were recruited by Falls Church. They came after you and I can see why.
Mary Gavin: I got a call from, actually from somebody from Falls Church, when they had an opening back in 2007 for Deputy Chief and they asked me if I would want to apply.
Andy Ockershausen: Were you a sergeant by then?
Mary Gavin: I was a Captain in Arlington in the Vice Narcotics Unit. So I hemmed and hawed about it a little bit because I really loved Arlington and, you know, things just fell into place and when people call and ask you, you know, you have to listen. So I did and I listened and, but, you know, my heartstrings are still tugging towards Arlington and so I went through the process and I decided to take a leap of faith and I did. I never looked back. I mean, it’s a great opportunity. I’ve had two really good departments that I’ve worked for.
So I applied with Falls Church in 2007. I became their Deputy Chief and it was kind of a soft landing as to how to come into department because you know that …
Andy Ockershausen: You probably knew everybody there that you did in Arlington.
Soft Landing into Falls Church Police Department
Mary Gavin: I knew quite a few, but I didn’t know any of the issues. So I kinda wanted things, what was the best way or what’s the fairest, you know, as to what was before me.
Andy Ockershausen: And there’s always issues.
Mary Gavin: There’s always issues. There’s always issues. So I know I brought probably a little diversity in the fact that I was a female into their command staff.
Andy Ockershausen: Into the high ranks, I mean, that is so attractive because you are attractive, but you’re an athlete and it shows and they recognize your talent. That’s why they hired you.
Mary Gavin: Well, thank you. I really didn’t … I had a great opportunity because I had a Chief that actually ran the department, but yet at the same time was very supportive of the things that we were to change. We’re trying to make significant change within the department in terms of the way we operated things.
Andy Ockershausen: Not only are you a fresh face, but you’re a fresh voice and you’re bringing ideas to another department that’s, and you know, that’s diversity of ability and that was important too to Falls Church.
Mary Gavin: Yeah it was. I would say back in that time that’s exactly what anyone needs. They need outside view of what’s really going on in somebody that doesn’t have a background to maybe some former issues. So you just kind of take things as they come and you treat it as fairly as you can based on what’s before you, the evidence before you and or the general orders that drive your practices. So it was, it was a great time. There was obviously some challenges. The Chief was Harry Reitze at the time. He was very supportive and then me and Harry worked together for five years and I was promoted to Chief there soon after. And again …
Andy Ockershausen: Wonderful, wonderful thing for the county and for you and it all worked out well. They couldn’t have hired somebody from Poughkeepsie, New York to come and take that job because you knew the territory. You may not have known all the nuances, but you knew Northern Virginia. You knew the people. They all look alike in Northern Virginia. Falls Church has always been diverse like Arlington.
Mary Gavin: Yeah. I …
Andy Ockershausen: You were ideal.
Great Network of Police Chiefs in Northern Virginia
Mary Gavin: I’ve, you know, I didn’t think of it then that way, but right now as you reflect back at that opportunities that I’ve had, you know, I have family that had grown up in Falls Church. Even my mother went to St. James as a young lady. So I did. I know the area. Most importantly, you know, in northern Virginia we have this great group of Chiefs that we meet like once a month and we talk about issues because we really have seamless borders when it comes to issues.
Andy Ockershausen: There’s no gates there. You drive back and forth, you don’t know where you are sometimes.
Mary Gavin: And, and with that, a small jurisdiction within the Beltway, probably one of the smallest, if not the smallest jurisdiction within the Northern Virginia beltway. I depend on my partners and there are times they depend on me, very few, but I depend on them a lot more. In particular in crisis and actually if I need something that’s exact or specialized because oftentimes in the smaller jurisdiction, you have less number of people in they’re less specialized, they’re more generalist.
So when I need something very specific, I reach out to my friends in Arlington who I know very well and my friends in Fairfax …
Andy Ockershausen: Alexandria? You’re all in the same boat.
Mary Gavin: Alexandria. We are. We are and we’re all in the same boat every month together. We train together, our academies are all together, so we have like practices. We have a unique, we don’t have unique jurisdictions, but we have the same mission instead of the same best practices. So it’s …
Andy Ockershausen: Take care of your people.
Mary Gavin: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s what it is.
Mary Gavin: Number one.
Andy Ockershausen: This has been Andy Ockershausen with a wonderful conversation with a great Chief of Police, Mary Gavin.
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Announcer: You are listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town and my conversation with Mary Gavin has been delightful because she’s a native and I guess there are not many of us left because I’m a native Washingtonian. Your a native Northern Virginian and that’s all changed now. We’ve got so many new people in this area. It’s hard to keep up, Mary.
Proud Native of Northern Virginia
Mary Gavin: It is. And I’m a proud native of Northern Virginia. My parents are proud natives of DC, so to even go back a generation and people look at me like, wow, you cannot find locals, but I am a proud local and I do enjoy this area. I love this area.
Andy Ockershausen: But now that you’ve established yourself in police work, what is a career path for you now, you know, you could take over Arlington or you could take over Fairfax or run Tom Manger and take over in Montgomery County. These are all names I know are friends of yours, correct?
Friends and Mentors
Mary Gavin: They are friends of mine and mentors of mine. Tom Manger, you know I knew Tom when he was in Fairfax and I’m very good friends with Chief Jay Farr who is the Chief of Arlington and …
Andy Ockershausen: Great reputation.
Mary Gavin: Great reputation.
Andy Ockershausen: Arlington police have done a great job.
Mary Gavin: They have and having grown up in the profession in Arlington, I felt very fortunate, very fortunate for the opportunities and we talk about diversity. It’s a diverse community, but it was also a very diverse department. There were a lot of women there when I got there in 1986, so I had women to be mentored by, a lot of men to be mentored by and the community was very diverse. We had diversity in socioeconomic, lots of different ethnicities and it was just a lot of opportunity. And so I spent 22 really good years in Arlington and had a lot of different, a variety of assignments.
Andy Ockershausen: You sort of grow up and actually with the Metro explosion, which Metro was going to bring wherever it went and the people were smart enough in the real estate world and Arlington made a killing getting closer to where Metro was going to open and that’s all progress and now it’s going to be doubled down with this big happening and what do they call it? National Landing in Arlington County instead of Crystal City. It’s National Landing.
Changes Expected with Incoming H2Q
Mary Gavin: Yes. I think with the acquisition of H2Q, the Amazon headquarters that they are. They’re going to explode in terms of Crystal City. I’ve heard that they’re going to try and change the name to National Landing but, yeah, that’ll be a lot of economic development down by the airport, the hotels, Route 1, which is in Crystal City. There’s just an abundance of things that Amazon will bring to this area and we’ve already felt the, through conversation I guess in announcement, the excitement of it all. But I guess the reality of the build out will probably come in the next five to 10 years I would imagine.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, it’s gonna affect Falls Church. You cannot avoid it. I mean, even if you wanted to, but you don’t want to avoid it. Now your city manager, I’m sure is beaten his chops to get some of that money into your territory. Wayne Shields, he’s your city manager. Now does Arlington have a city manager like Falls Church does? Alexandria has a city manager too.
Mary Gavin: They do. Arlington, has a county manager. They have a county board and you know, the city of Falls Church, yes, they have a city manager and a Council of 7. Then they also have a School Board and you’re right, the economic boom of Falls Church is something that, you know, in every jurisdiction Police Chiefs keep a steady eye on because not is it only about crime, it’s about public safety and it’s about ensuring that the community …
Andy Ockershausen: Traffic.
Growth in Falls Church Expected
Mary Gavin: You’re right. Traffic is always a big deal, but we to, like many other jurisdictions, reap the many benefits of the Metro. We have a Metro on the east Falls Church and we have a Metro on the West Falls Church. So we’re sandwiched between these two Metro stations that provide a lot of opportunity in speaking of which, the metro on the West Falls Church is actually going to see great growth because the high school is located right there.
We’re getting a new high school in the next five years …
Andy Ockershausen: A new build up?
Mary Gavin: In a new build up. It’s like almost a town center in and around that area. So they’re looking forward to working with both. It’ll be Arlington, it will be Metro, it’ll be Fairfax County that all kind of intersects at that location. So that’s gonna be exciting times and then further into the city, there’s additional construction, which, you know, the city is growing up, you know, and more dense. So as a Police Chief my job is to try to strategically look at that in terms of resources and how do we provide the best service to ensure safety because we talked about the State Theater being that institution that’s been there since you remember back in the day and that provides a great nightlife. So that’s a lot of what keeps me up at night is how do I sustain police services for the economic development of the community.
Andy Ockershausen: Which is inevitable.
Mary Gavin: Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: Because it’s a beautiful community anyway, like along Route 7 that’s going to change. That to me was like the ancient part of Northern Virginia, but that’s going to change now. Route 7 is going to change.
Mary Gavin: It’s … Your right and it’s … We’ve got some beautiful institutions on Route Seven, The Falls Church, which is what the city or town was named after. It was a township at first, is …
Andy Ockershausen: How old is that name?
Mary Gavin: The Falls Church? The church itself was actually George Washington went to that church and so it’s a very old institution.
Andy Ockershausen: I would say so.
Mary Gavin: Beautiful.
Andy Ockershausen: He didn’t come all the way from Mount Vernon to go to church. That’s a long ride.
Mary Gavin: It is.
Andy Ockershausen: On a horse.
Mary Gavin: Right and if you look down 7 in the past probably 10 years since I’ve been there, it’s grown up to all of these mid rises, so it’s almost like looking like Arlington and Clarendon area. There’s a lot of high rises, a lot of dense residential with businesses on the lower level that multi use. So it’s exciting times.
Andy Ockershausen: And you’re right in the middle of it, Mary.
Mary Gavin: I am.
Andy Ockershausen: And you’re going to see a growth happen. You saw it in Arlington. Arlington’s going to continue to grow. Now you’re really gonna feel it and I’m sure that Wayne Shields is a very happy. He speaks highly of you I know. I’ve read some of his remarks and he’s your boss, so you gotta, you know, you perform well and the boss knows it and the council knows it.
Falls Church City Manager Wayne Shields
Mary Gavin: Right. Mr Shields is very supportive. He too is very excited about the economic development. He’s very, very too concerned about the public safety and ensuring that we can stay up with the times. As far as Council, they’ve been working very hard working with economic development and planning and all the engineers in the community trying to … What’s the right mix for the City and trying to grow smartly, but it’s coming fast.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, Mary, all I can say is Falls Church and the people of Falls Church are very fortunate to have you and your background because you had a great training to watch what happened to Arlington. Now you’re going to see the same thing in Falls Church and they are very happy to have you. I know that and I hope your happiness means you’re going to stay for a while. Somebody’s going to try to recruit you. It’s inevitable.
Mary Gavin: Well …
Andy Ockershausen: They got Cathy Lanier in the NFL, who knows, maybe they’ll get you in the AFL or something.
Mary Gavin: Well, I can tell you I did learn a lot from Arlington. I learned a lot through my career based on, like you said, the development of a community and how do you marry a business community with a residential community and what does that mean for public safety? I learned a lot in Arlington, particularly Clarendon, and you translate that into Falls Church and this is what we’re back into. It’s like Groundhog Day. We’re doing it all over, but I feel very fortunate. I have my eye on nowhere else. I love my job.
Andy Ockershausen: I’m so glad and we’re very fortunate to have you with the WRAP, with the organization and we’re very fortunate that we are all committed to do something about drunk driving and do what we can. And, Mary, I’m so pleased that you had time to be with us today.
So all the best wishes for the holiday. I don’t know when this program will run, but we’ll keep you informed because we have a schedule, but we’ll give you plenty of notice. So a podcast lasts forever. I won’t, but the podcast will, but Mary Gavin, thank you so much for being here and thank you for being part of Our Town.
Mary Gavin: Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure, my honor to be here.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen and we’ve been talking to Mary Gavin.
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