Retiring Falls Church City Police Chief Harry Reitze has been a coal miner, a landscaper, and a farmer. He’s worked in a factory, in a slaughterhouse, and in a grocery store. He jokes that, since the age of 12, he’s done almost anything one can to make a buck. But it took him only a year with the City’s police department to realize that the opportunity to make a positive impact as a police officer was greater than any of his old jobs could offer him.
Reitze started his law enforcement career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Pittsburgh area native relocated to the Washington, D.C. area to accept a position as a clerk, and later became a technical fingerprint examiner. He hoped to become a special agent, but it would be years before he could enter agent school, and positions were limited. This roadblock on his career path at the FBI led him to change course and apply to Falls Church’s police department, where through his decorated 37 years of service he would rise to the rank of colonel and oversee the entire department as chief.
But in 1975, he was a fresh graduate from police academy patrolling the streets of a city that was in many ways unlike The Little City of today. Back then, about a dozen illicit massage parlors and a few rowdy country western bars populated the city, along with “some other areas that were, shall we say, very active,” Reitze said. Alcohol-related offenses were much more common, he added.
“It was pretty rough and tumble back then,” Reitze said. He would jokingly call Falls Church “the western edge of civilization,” but today the epithet no longer fits. The City of Falls Church is now a more affluent and highly educated community, Reitze says, and the types of crimes his department sees are different. Domestic issues are most common, he says, and while serious crimes like larceny and robbery are present, they are few when compared to other jurisdictions.
“To someone that’s experienced a crime, that doesn’t sound like much,” Reitze said, “but per capita and percent to total, the law enforcement agencies in Northern Virginia are so very good now.” And Reitze believes his employees make his department exemplary among those in the region.
“Our department has some of the best trained, well-equipped police officers in all of Northern Virginia,” Reitze said. City Manager Wyatt Shields, in the City’s press release regarding Reitze’s retirement, attributes the strength of the department to the culture of success that Reitze has promoted.
“Chief Reitze has been a strong leader for the Police Department and the City as a whole,” said Shields. “He has fostered a culture in which the men and women who serve in the Department want to be the best, period. We see the results of that with what our police officers are able to accomplish everyday for the community.”
Since his appointment to chief in May 2007, a key duty of Reitze’s position has been ensuring that his staff has the training to satisfy state requirements and terms of accreditation that go above those basic requirements.
“By meeting all of these required mandates, the public knows that we are a highly professional agency, and we follow policies and procedures that are known and best practices in the public safety area,” Reitze said.
Beyond satisfying standard training requirements, Reitze said he sought to provide his officers with requested training, as well, making sure they could take advantage of education opportunities in specialized areas of law enforcement, be it in gangs, explosives, or other areas of interest.
Supporting the department’s training requests and keeping morale high has been a challenge considering the pay freezes and tight budgets that have come with the troubled economy of the past few years.
“The most important thing, though, is to keep them in a position where you’re moving them forward,” Reitze said. “There’s always at least a little, if not a large, challenge that you put before them to do. You keep them moving. You don’t want them to get stagnant.”
It’s been decades since Reitze worked at the grocery store, stocking shelves and watching them empty just to stock them again. The difference between that work and the field in which he’s made his career, as he sees it, is the permanence of the impact he makes. The bad guys go to jail. Criminals stop breaking the laws. The tough circumstances that citizens face are made better. He can’t say which of the instances in which he’s made a positive impact is most memorable – he’s probably forgotten many in his nearly four decades with the police department, he admits – but as his retirement approaches, the impact he’s made on his department is one he’s particularly proud of.
“I think that probably the most satisfying thing after 37 years will be being able to walk away from here knowing what a good shape this department is in, and the people I’m leaving behind to run it are prepared and capable,” Reitze said.