Front Royal’s new police chief shifts focus to community policing

Front Royal's new Police Chief Kahle Magalis stands by a line of police cruisers outside his department on Jackson Street on Thursday. Magalis, a former major with the Warren County Sheriff's Office, started his new job on Oct. 1. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — A week and a half in at his new position, the town’s new Police Chief Kerry L. “Kahle” Magalis II said Thursday he’s enjoying the “whirlwind” transition as he gets ready to implement his plans for the department.

Magalis assumed the role of police chief on Oct. 1, leaving his position as a major in the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. He succeeds Norman Shiflett, another Sheriff’s Office veteran who joined the department in 2012 and retired on May 1 after almost 34 years in law enforcement.

Town Councilman John Connolly said he and the council are hoping that Magalis continues the work Shiflett began, and they are excited to see what kind of job Magalis does.

“I think he’s got a tremendous amount of talent on the force to work with, and that we’re headed in the right direction,” Connolly said. “It’s been a long process to find the right person, and I do think that we have.”

Magalis noted he’s already built relationships with many of the officers in the Front Royal police force he now oversees through his nearly-20 years of work in the Sheriff’s Office in various capacities, including narcotics investigations and the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force because of the “cross-pollination” that comes with working in the same jurisdiction.

With the area’s drug problem on the rise, Magalis called the opioid epidemic “the biggest problem we’re faced with right now.”  He said the department is taking steps to overcome it through its work with the “proactive” task force and partnerships with organizations in the area like the Warren County Community Health Coalition and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition.

“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” Magalis said. “Law enforcement will not solve the drug problem; we can try to keep a handle on the crime that’s associated with it, but a lot of that is going to come from community involvement and other resources.”

Magalis added that maintaining those relationships with the community organizations that work to address the substance abuse problems, and offering to help with outreach and education, is one of his many plans for the future of the department. He also hopes to get the department accredited with the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission over the next 18 months to two years as “an illustration to the public that we’re doing things the right way.”

Primarily, Magalis plans to build the department’s relationship with the community by getting more involved with youth and increasing the department’s public presence both on the street and on social media.

“Several years back — for the past couple of decades — you’ve seen police agencies creating all these positions about having a community police officer here and a community police officer there,” Magalis said. “I don’t know when community policing became a position rather than a philosophy.”

He added that he wants to make community policing “everybody’s job,” and not having that responsibility belong to one or two officers in the department. He said that they will maintain the community resource officer position for the larger community events, but that cultivating that relationship with Front Royal’s residents is a major focus for the department in the future.

Magalis — a father of three daughters and a husband for 22 years — grew up in Front Royal dreaming of becoming a police officer, joking that his dad bought him the toy police car instead of the toy fire truck. Realizing that dream, Magalis said he’s “fortunate” to serve his time in law enforcement in the community he’s been a part of his entire life.

“I enjoy living in the community that I serve,” Magalis said. “Some folks like to work someplace other than the place that they live because of running into people they’ve dealt with and things like that.

“I think it’s rewarding,” Magalis continued, “particularly when you have children and a family, and you’re raising that family in the community. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction knowing that you help protect that in which you set your family forth.”