Critics of Roanoke police chief call for changes at department

Some see opportunity for police to improve community relations

ROANOKE, Va. – There's more reaction this week to the announcement Thursday that Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones will retire early next year.

Some members of the community who have been critical of Jones said Monday that the department needs to make some changes under a new leader.

Catherine Koebel, of the group Roanoke Indivisible, and Karen Cobb, formerly with Moms Demand Action, said Jones has been divisive and they're happy he's stepping down. They believe the city now has an opportunity to improve its relations with the community.

Koebel said she'd like to see more diversity among staff members, more of a focus on de-escalation when engaging with citizens and a better understanding of cultural differences.

"I think these are core things that are necessary for the department to function with the community instead of as a force acting out against the community," she said.

They believe there's a lack of trust between citizens and officers and that Jones made the problem worse with some of his comments and actions, including on rape and shooting investigations.

They worry that people are now wondering whether police will treat them fairly.

"There's going to have to be some trust-building between the police department and the community and I'm telling you now that's not going to be an easy thing to do," Cobb said.

She believes there should be more collaboration between officers and community leaders when it comes to preventing crime and she feels the department needs more implicit bias training.

Koebel and Cobb believe the opposition Jones faced from voices like theirs was a factor in his decision to step down.

Jones told 10 News Friday that he made the decision because he felt the time was right and because, if he waited, he'd always have more items on his to-do list.

Koebel and Cobb plan on giving input in the search for the next chief and suggest that the city brings in an outside consultant for the search who understands the importance of community relations.