Public safety director plans to hit the lakes running

DANVILLE – Neither law enforcement work nor teaching is high on the list of options Carl Alexander is considering after his retirement May 31.

Fishing is.

Alexander, and the men and women who serve alongside him, have spent the past three years changing the look of the city's public safety department and updating its technology – two of the goals Alexander had in mind when he became the first public safety director in 2004.

The post has turned out to be his last in law enforcement.

Alexander, 61, launched his career in 1969 with the Washington, D.C., Metro Police Department after spending eight years and three tours of duty with the U.S. Army.

After retiring, he moved back to Danville, his hometown, in 1991 to work with the local office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, overseeing the conversion of its security department to a police department. In 1999, he was hired as Danville police chief. That job later was combined with the fire chief's position to become public safety director.

Alexander spoke about his past and future last week with The News-Gazette.

What led you to law enforcement?

I didn't want to go back and get killed. I was a senior drill instructor at Fort Campbell, Ky., basically training recruits on how to be a soldier. The Washington, D.C., Metro Police Department came down to recruit, and I had enough of Vietnam.

Alexander completed a three-year tour in Europe, one tour of Korea and one tour of Vietnam. While in the Army, he earned his GED certificate.

Describe your job in D.C.

I had every kind of assignment that you would want to work. I started in the special-operations division ... then internal affairs, homicide, burglary, arson and bomb unit, property division, intelligence division of organized crime and second-in-command for the police and fire clinic. I was the first black in charge of homicide. I was on the interview team that interviewed John Hinckley Jr. after the attempted assassination of (former) President Ronald Reagan, and I solved the abortion clinic bombings in D.C.

Every American ought to see D.C. The global center is D.C. Every nation is represented. I miss the things the big city has, but I had enough of it.

Alexander played a key role in the recovery of victims of Air Florida Flight 90, a plane crash in January 1982 that took the lives of 78 people. The plane ended up in the icy Potomac River.

It was the coldest I've ever been in my life. I was down on the river 10 days. The first recovered was a baby, and the last recovered was a baby.

How has your service as public safety director changed your view of Danville?

My views of the city have not changed. Danville's an excellent city. We have one of the best school systems. The trouble is the influx (from Chicago). Everybody should have a place to live ... but our services are overwhelmed. They dumped their poorest people on us without sending resources. Crime moved with it. It is changing us. We've become more proactive in dealing with it and not letting crime overtake us.

We also need some jobs that pay a living wage. Some of the jobs we've got are good, but can you raise a family on that? It's tough.

How do you feel crime has changed since you began your career?

The worst thing ever was when crack cocaine hit D.C and New York at the same time. Our murder rate went from 200 to 800 a year, and our closure went from 98 percent to 51 percent.

Crime has become more violent than it ever was. People don't realize that most drug laws were written in the 1900s; there was cocaine and opium back then. But crack cocaine is violent, and that violence is changing America.

What are your philosophies?

I've learned a lot and I've enjoyed it, and I took that and tried to pass it on to make Danville a better place. We all have gifts, and if we don't use those gifts to help others we're lost.

What are your plans after retirement?

Fish, fish and more fish. I think my career in police is over. I might do some consulting. I'll job hunt and stay in Danville.

I wanted to be the best police chief this city's ever had and ... I don't know, I did the best I could. Unfortunately, there are things you always want to do, but you just can't get it all done. It's time for this old colonel to move on.

What will you miss the most?

That's easy: the people. It won't be the same, but I know the city's in good hands.

We definitely have a good group of people.

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