Around F.C., News

Interview: Chief Gavin Reviews Her Time in F.C.

After 16 years of working for the City of Falls Church Police Department (FCPD), 11 of those years as the police chief, Mary Gavin is saying goodbye to a “great ride” and “good journey.” 

Last week, the City of Falls Church announced Chief Gavin’s retirement, highlighting her various achievements during her tenure with the FCPD. Before her official last day on January 6, 2024, the city will be launching a recruitment process this fall to find a new Police Chief. 

Gavin, who was sworn in as a Major for the city’s police department almost 16 years ago, said she was humbled by the reactions and responses to news of her retirement. 

“I had some connections I’ve made throughout this community throughout the years that I didn’t remember but they certainly reminded me,” Gavin said. “It was pleasing to know that [the FCPD] made an impact.” 

For almost 40 years, Gavin has been involved with the police force, serving the Arlington County Police Department for 22 years as a patrol officer before joining the FCPD in December of 2007. Gavin said her decision to retire came from wanting to leave the force being “happy and healthy.”

“I think it’s the right time for me and the department because we’re in a good place,” Gavin said. “I think there’s a great foundation moving forward and it is one of the best times to be a police officer because of all of the opportunities with reform.” 

When she first received a call from the FCPD 16 years ago asking if she was interested in being their deputy chief, Gavin said she was “taken aback” by the opportunity. 

“[FCPD] called back and said, ‘Would you reconsider?’” Gavin said. “I just said, ‘Yeah, I’ll put my hat in the ring.’ This was just an absolutely wonderful opportunity.”

Chief Gavin (and Falls Church Sheriff’s Deputy) in front of the 1984 Volvo Police Cruiser at Memorial Day Parade. (Photo: Clare Casey)

The transition from Arlington County to the Little City was “interesting,” with Gavin saying she prepared herself “mentally” to being an “outsider” by reading books about transitioning. Under the supervision of former FCPD chief Harry Reitz, who Gavin said she looked up to, she was able to understand how her leadership would impact the police department. 

“It was really very humbling for me because I walked in [the FCPD] and I’m like ‘I’ve never done this before,’” Gavin said. “As that evolved, what I learned is that it’s easier to turn around a small department in terms of decision making.” 

Under Gavin’s leadership, the FCPD was an early adopter and advocate of the community policing principles defined by former president Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing initiative in 2015 and the first local public safety agency to partner with the Center of Youth and Family Advocacy (CYFA) to further restorative justice practices and resources within the department and community. Gavin also has played an active leadership role in several regional, national and international law enforcement groups and associations, such as the Board of Directors for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Executive Board for the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy (NVCJTA). 

Throughout her years with the FCPD, Gavin said her favorite part is her officers, who she said have been progressive and “want to be engaged in this community.” Watching them “take a case or scene” and giving it the best resolution has been something Gavin said she enjoys seeing.

“I’ve seen such a change in the type of people that are coming into this profession,” Gavin said. “They see the true vision of the future of policing in terms of making sure the sanctity of life is the primary objective of their service.” 

As for obstacles she has faced during her time with the FCPD, Gavin said the department annually faces challenges in providing the best service based on the needs of the community, such as managing budgets. As a female police chief, Gavin said she is “so very fortunate” in serving during a timeframe when there are many female and male chiefs that have been regionally supportive. 

“Our relationship is very strong, and I have had the privilege for the past nine years to be the chair of the NoVa Chiefs and Sheriffs Group,” Gavin said. “Anytime I’ve had a challenge, that’s who I lean on.” 

When asked what she will miss the most about being police chief for the Little City, Gavin tearfully said “her people” and the day-to-day interactions with them, along with cheering the department on during the Memorial Day parade and race. 

“I just think it’s the day-to-day rhythm of almost like a family,” Gavin said. “You spend a lot of time with your co-workers and become a tight-knit group of people.” 

For whoever the next police chief may be, Gavin’s advice to them is that they need to take the time to understand the community’s needs and wants, while also recognizing that the position is “really about public safety.” 

After her retirement next January, Gavin will become an adjunct professor at American University, which she said she is excited about doing. She also said she wants to travel, volunteer for the community and spend time with her mother and children. 

“In some form or fashion, I would like to acknowledge how profoundly grateful I am to go out happy and healthy and supported by the community,” Gavin said. “It’s been a good ride.”