A Tough Cop’s Soft Heart
As the police chief of Charlottesville, the colonial Virginia college town that’s been rocked by several high-profile crimes in recent years, Timothy Longo Sr., J.D. ’93, has seen his name in the national news more frequently than he might like. While he generally eschews the limelight, he made time to talk to us and to relive his experience as a student in the UB School of Law.
On finding out that he passed the bar:
It was Nov. 12, 1993—a Saturday. They said that’s when we’d get notification of passing the bar. People said if the envelope was thin, you failed. I remember, I was living in bay country, in East Baltimore County. I was looking out my kitchen window waiting all morning for the mail truck. It came around 1 o’clock, and I waited for the mail carrier to leave because I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself in front of him. The envelope felt good—it felt like more than one piece of paper. I opened it up, I scanned it and saw the word “pleased,” and as soon as I saw that, I said, “Oh my God!” I dropped to my knees right in the middle of the street. It was a tremendous feeling. Tremendous.
On the pressures of the job:
No community is protected from crime. It’s a sad but unfortunate fact of life. To say that doing this work doesn’t affect you emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, I’d be misleading you. It does.
On getting close to the family of Hannah Graham, the University of Virginia student who went missing in September and was found dead five weeks later:
You have to maintain your professional objectivity and safeguard the integrity of your investigation, but it’s virtually impossible not to develop a relationship with people. In order to earn their trust, you have to allow people to get to know you. In this case, it was virtually impossible not to get close, but we were able to remain objective. The case is now in the hands of the Albemarle County commonwealth’s attorney. But during the search, they needed to have confidence in us.
On how the Graham case impacted him personally:
My youngest daughter, Claire, is 15 years old. When I was watching her play soccer in Staunton (Virginia) one day (shortly after Hannah disappeared), I just thought, this family might never have an opportunity to see their little girl again. I’ve been criticized for showing emotion, but this case moved me. I think it would move anyone who has a child. You just never know.
On the challenges of policing post-Ferguson, Missouri:
There’s never been a time [when] it’s been more important to work on what some people call community policing, or what I call relationship policing. You have to build relationships that are built on trust so that when things happen, there’s no suspicion, mistrust and cynicism. Do people trust you? Are you a legitimate partner? When bad things happen around the country, it threatens that legitimacy. We have a history of bad stuff—slavery, segregation, discrimination based on race. These things don’t go away because the laws have changed; the history is still there. It’s naïve to think that there aren’t generations of people who suffered from that history who don’t still remember it.
On the Rolling Stone rape case investigation:
We typically don’t open criminal investigations based on an article. We may reach out to people to investigate something, but this story was so egregious and it impacted people so deeply that when the president of UVA asked me to lead an investigation into the allegations in the story, it made perfect sense to do it. It was such an outrageous allegation, we had to do it.
On whether excessive force was used in the arrest of UVA student Martese Johnson:
That is way out of my purview to say if [Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control] agents used excessive force. State police are conducting an investigation. It would be irresponsible for me to comment before that happens. I can’t change what happened. I was criticized for saying, “We hire human beings to do this work … and humans sometimes screw up; how do we prevent it from happening again?” We need to talk about how and why it happened, but we also need to get beyond it.
On the origins of the police-brutality debate:
Rodney King [victim of Los Angeles police beating in 1991] affected the credibility of cops around the country. It took a few news cycles for that video to get out. Now, that would happen in seconds. We are more conscious of the issue and we are more proactive in dealing with these misconduct issues now. Now we have systems of accountability.
On the Yeardley Love case:
[Love and George Huguely V] were only three or four weeks from graduation—it was early May. They had made it this far. They were academically successful, superb athletes. One was dead and the other on his way to jail. It was such a sad and emotional case.
On cooking and TV:
I’m not really into police shows, but I did follow The Wire—though not as much as my son, Tim Jr., who absolutely loved it. I watch the Cooking Channel or the Food Network. I don’t have a real signature dish, but for the first 10 years of marriage, I did most or all of the cooking. Now, I cook only one or two times per year. My wife has taken that up as I’ve gotten busier.
On his hair:
I was buying quality hair-care products before people even knew what that stuff was. Gel, pomade, everything. I bought the Redken products—the shampoo, the hairspray, the gel, the whole nine yards. It was like $6 a bottle in the 1980s, and that seemed like a lot of money back then. I wasn’t putting … junk in my hair. Now, I might use a little gel if [my flattop] gets longer, but I don’t need much.
It’s a good community. It’s a safe community. If they fired me tomorrow, I’d still live here.
On how you never know who you’ll run into in police work:
I proposed to my wife at a restaurant called the Great American Melting Pot on North Charles Street. It was late at night; the maitre d’ saw us and sent over a drink. A couple of years later, I encountered this individual and placed him under arrest in a minor—but some would say embarrassing—situation. He was getting ready to be fingerprinted and asked me, “How’s your wife?” I said, “She’s fine, why do you ask?” He said, “You don’t recognize me, do you? I was the guy who sent you a drink when you proposed to your wife.” … We just kind of laughed and left it at that.
On whether he’d consider going into politics:
Absolutely not. I will never seek political office anywhere for any reason. Never. An appointed position, maybe, but not an elected one. I don’t have the patience for politics. Politics can obstruct progress. I would love to teach at a law school, and I’d love to teach on policing issues.