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New chief sworn in

Dozens of Suffolk residents joined the Suffolk Police Department in welcoming its new chief Thursday.

About 200 people packed into the auditorium at Booker T. Washington Elementary School to see Chief Thomas Bennett sworn in. Clerk of Circuit Court Randy Carter swore in the new chief on his family Bible, with Bennett’s wife, mother and children by his side.

“The Suffolk Police Department will use every tool at its disposal to create a safer community,” promised Bennett during his remarks. Bennett added that he expects the department to be “community-based, problem-oriented and data-driven.”

“You are responsible for the safety of this community,” he told the officers present. “I believe in you.”

Bennett assured the officers that “willful incompetence” will not be tolerated and that exceptional performance will be rewarded.

“I expect you all to be leaders,” he said.

Bennett recognized his family, including his wife Diana, his children, Rebecca, Emily, and Matthew, his mother and his grandmother. He also thanked several mentors who were in the audience, as well as former Suffolk police chiefs William Freeman and Gilbert “Spud” Jackson, who were in attendance. Law enforcement officials from throughout the area, including Portsmouth, Newport News, Chesapeake and the Virginia Marine Police, came to observe the ceremony.

Bennett began his police career with the city of Newport News in 1984. He served in uniformed patrol, major crimes investigation, the anti-crime task force, vice, narcotics and special projects for that department before being promoted to deputy chief in 2005. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminology from St. Leo College, as well as a master’s degree in public administration from Old Dominion University. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

Although Bennett’s hiring was the result of a nationwide search, he has plenty of connections with Suffolk. He spent part of his childhood living in Suffolk, and also lived here from 1996 to 2003.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson spoke during the ceremony, saying the police department is essential to the quality of life in Suffolk.

“There is no quality unless we feel safe,” Johnson said. “The better we deliver it, the less our citizens will have to think about it.”

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn also made remarks, referring to a study the city did early this year to determine the public’s desires for a new police chief.

“You wanted someone with integrity, with honor,” she said. “We wanted someone who really believes in exceptional public service.”

The ceremony also included a special presentation to Thomas Townsend, who has served as interim police chief since Jan. 1, following the retirement of former Police Chief William Freeman, who served in that post for seven years.

Bennett begins work on Monday.