Campus Police Chief: Calm chief leads Va. Tech in storm

By Greg Edwards
Richmond Times-Dispatch 
Flinchum, a veteran police officer, has a reputation for fairness, cool composure 

BLACKSBURG -  Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum, who stepped into an international spotlight this week, grew up in the Blacksburg area and in the Tech police force.

Flinchum, now in his mid-40s, joined the Tech force as a student in 1983 and quit school to become a full-time officer two years later.

His fellow law-enforcement professionals have good things to say about the quiet, low-key Flinchum, who this week is carrying the weight of two Monday shootings in which 32 people were killed.

Debra Duncan, who preceded Flinchum as chief of the 85-member university police force, described Flinchum as her "go-to guy" during her five-year tenure as chief, which ended last year.

'Knew he would get it done'

Duncan, now chief in Monroe, N.C., recalled she promoted Flinchum when she arrived at Tech and again to captain before she left. "If I gave him something to do, I knew he would get it done," she said.

She described Flinchum as level-headed, methodical and analytical.

Flinchum has been unflappable in his responses to questions from hundreds of reporters from an international media corps this week.

Reporters and others have questioned whether the Tech force and the university responded adequately after the first shooting on the campus, but state and university officials have supported Flinchum's decisions.

Faced with sometimes prickly and accusatory questions, the campus police chief has listened patiently and responded in even, unexcited tones.

Larry Hincker, the university's top spokesman, said he has worked directly with Flinchum for several years. "He's calm, he's cool, he's very professional," Hincker said.

Few people on the Tech campus are more torn up about the shootings than Flinchum, Hincker said. He said he doesn't think Flinchum's job has been jeopardized by the police department's response to the week's events.

State police Sgt. Mike King, who works in the New River Valley area that includes Blacksburg, described Flinchum as a veteran police officer who makes good decisions.

"He is fair and honest . . . very calm under pressure," King said. "He is quiet and a fairly personable fellow when you get to know him."

King's supervisor, state police 1st Sgt. Frank Parries, said Flinchum is "just a good person, very decent.

'Very conscientious'

"He's very conscientious and cares about the people he works for and works with."

Virginia Tech's administration gave Flinchum the chief's job in December after a nationwide search that produced 90 candidates. As chief, he is responsible for an 85-member department and the security on the 2,600-acre main campus and more than 26,000 students.

The department earned its third national accreditation and is one of only 35 university police departments nationally with that distinction.

Before his selection, Flinchum had served as Tech's interim police chief since July 1. He led the Tech department's response in August when a Montgomery County prisoner escaped from custody at a local hospital. County police said the prisoner killed a security guard during the escape attempt and then a county deputy sheriff on a hiking trail near the university campus.

Finishing college degree

Flinchum is a 2005 graduate of the FBI National Academy. Two years earlier, he completed Professional Executive Leadership School at the University of Richmond and the Commonwealth Management Institute. He is finishing his college degree at Bluefield College.

Duncan said she talked with Flinchum this week after the shooting and offered words of support. "I think he's done an outstanding job," she said. "He's holding up very well."

It's easy to second-guess people, Duncan said. Flinchum acted appropriately, and everyone will see that, she said.

"I feel certain the response was what it should have been," she said.

Copyright 2007 Richmond Times - Dispatch

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