He isn't the main attraction, but for a brief few minutes at John Marshall High School, Richmond Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood is a waltzing showman.
At Mayor Dwight Jones' town hall meeting Oct. 29, Norwood flashes a smile and starts working the crowd gathered in the brown-tiled cafeteria, which feels more like a giant bathtub on a rainy October night.
He postures as if he's scanning the crowd, explaining that he's in search of a few good men and women, if you will.
“I'm looking for about 225,000 people to help reduce crime in this city!” he says, exuding a confidence that generally escapes the other speakers on this night. He calls up a group of high-school students, an advisory board of sorts, and brims like a proud father.
“They are the future of our community,” he says of the dozen or so in-school crime consultants, and they're “all going to college.”
A year after taking over the Richmond Police Department, Norwood remains something of an unknown outside of City Hall. He keeps a low profile, unlike his predecessor, Rodney Monroe. Some say his appointment by former Mayor Doug Wilder a year ago places Norwood in a politically tenuous position. If crime spikes — it has largely held steady from a year ago — he can be removed without much political damage to Jones.
Monroe, who left to become police chief in Charlotte, N.C., last fall, was widely revered by both politicians and residents. Largely credited with reducing violent crime in the city to levels previously thought impossible — the city recorded 32 murders in 2008, a 37-year low — Monroe was a well-liked, blue-collar chief who smoked, loved boxing and didn't have a college degree (at least not initially).
Norwood is press-shy. To mark his one-year anniversary, police spokesman Gene Lepley, a former NBC-12 news anchor, organized a tightly controlled media roundtable with Norwood last Friday afternoon. No recording devices were allowed during one portion of the interview, and afterward each media outlet was allowed five minutes of one-on-one time with the chief.
The one-on-ones took place behind a podium and two large plants at the front of a dimly lit conference room at the police training academy on Graham Road — as if Norwood were crouching behind a bush to conduct interviews.
While more guarded than Monroe, he's extremely personable and approachable, says City Council President Kathy Graziano, who attended Norwood's media event last week. She says Monroe was “flamboyant.”
Norwood says he's aware of the criticism that he hasn't made himself more available to City Hall, but adds that “Mayor Jones' and my personality are very similar,” as both have “deliberative” management approaches.
A year under his belt, Norwood appears ready to deal with such questions. “I'm sure I'll have some scrutiny to deal with,” he says, smiling.