Ever since the third grade, all Chris Jenkins dreamed to be was a police officer.
It’s been a dream come true for the career lawman – who on Tuesday celebrated 40 years of service at the Culpeper Town Police Department.
Starting in dispatch as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, Jenkins continually moved up the ranks until securing the top spot as chief of the department 7 and a half years ago.
It’s his love and passion for the community that he serves that has continued to drive him.
“Truthfully, it’s not like work,” Jenkins said. “It’s just a passion, working with all these folks makes it so enjoyable. I’ve got to live my dream.”
Starting in 1977, a lot has changed in Culpeper – but the people have remained the biggest part of the job. It’s his connection to the past and his gregarious, everyman attitude that has endeared him to the community.
Major Chris Settle, who organized a party on Aug. 15 celebrating the chief’s 40 years of service, pointed out how unique Jenkins is.
“It’s a pretty extreme rarity for a police officer to stay at one agency for 40 years,” Settle said. “This is like finding a Unicorn in the wild.”
Settle has known Jenkins for more than 20 years, and says his attention to the people in the area is what sets him apart.
“No one cares or loves this community than Chief Jenkins,” Settle said. “The more than 20 years I’ve known him, he’s embodied the community policing philosophy. That’s why he’s been so successful. He put his citizens first. When you have that formula it’s always going to work.”
When Jenkins first went on the road with the town police department, his first sergeant was Nate Jasper. Now a familiar face with the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office at the courthouse, Jasper said he could see the passion for the community all that time ago.
“Chris has always been a fun loving guy and he seemed to tackle most everything you present to him,” Jasper said. “He’s a great guy and a good friend. We’ve had a lot of good times on duty and off duty.”
Jasper gave Jenkins a key piece of advice his first day on the road – one that has stuck with Jenkins his entire career.
“He told me, ‘do what you think is right, you have to live with yourself,’” Jenkins said.
Jenkins has followed that path throughout his career and says he’s always tried to do the right thing. That has led him to many positive relationships throughout the community, and has helped him through tough personal times. His son, Jordan, committed suicide a few years ago and the way the community responded emboldened the chief. In partnership with Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services and Healthy Culpeper, he formed Team Jordan for suicide prevention.
“The single accomplishment for me is the respect I have for the community and the community has for me,” Jenkins said. “They’ve been there for me in my darkest hour. I love this community, this is my hometown. I’ve always known what I wanted to be, I’m living my dream. It’s just never felt like work.”
RRCS prevention specialist Alan Rasmussen teaches a criminal justice class at the University of Virginia called “Good cop, Bad Cop.” He says that when he talks about agencies that get it right, he always points to Culpeper and the man who leads the organization.
“I’ve used this agency on a number of times of what a good police department can be like,” Rasmussen said. “To not only do police work, but to also engage itself in community affairs and prevention programs. They’re an incredible organization and it’s because he’s at the head of it.
“That’s a guy you can trust, you can believe in,” Rasmussen said. “He’s got the best character of anybody I know.”
Jenkins said his character has been shaped by those that served before him, including Jasper and Roscoe Ford – who Jenkins made a point to honor by naming the new police station after him.
“I’ve had a lot of good teachers,” Jenkins said. “You can’t make it 40 years without having some help.”
Settle said it was extremely hard to find someone who has been in public service for 40 years in Culpeper to share the day with the chief – but he found someone.
During the celebration, Settle unveiled the one other constant in town for 40 years – a bust of Ronald McDonald that dated back to the same year the chief started with the police force.
A lady who worked at McDonald’s in 1977 came across it when the store was renovated and then sold it to a local business. Settle knew it had to have a home with the chief, and purchased it for a gift.
For Jenkins, it was just a sign of working with the community.
“You don’t go on this journey for 40 years without a lot of help,” Jenkins said. “It’s a team effort. Everybody is working together. That’s one thing I can say about this community, our law enforcement agencies work very hard behind the scenes to be prepared to keep you safe.”
Jenkins’ son Mark surprised him for the occasion, driving down from Pittsburgh to surprise his dad. Growing up the son of a career police officer wasn’t hard Mark said, he just knew that if he did anything wrong, his father would know first.
Mark recalled his first car accident, that occurred when he had his brother and sister with him. Within four minutes of the crash, he received a call from his dad.
“‘Everybody OK?, he said’. I already know you got into an accident, call me when you’re done with the police,’” the younger Jenkins said with a laugh.
Mark said that he’ll call his dad and he’s always on his way to some community event, and he does so not out of obligation, but because he truly loves to do it.
“He loves Culpeper,” Jenkins said. “To him this town is what he loves. When you talk to him there’s always something going on. I can tell when I talk to him, he wants to go to these events. He loves doing what he does.”