An interview with Kim Crannis
BLACKSBURG — Twenty years ago, while sitting at her father’s funeral in 14-degree weather, Blacksburg Police Chief Kim Crannis said she set her retirement date.
Her father had worked 44 years for a railroad, retired in October 1993 and died in January 1994.
“I remember thinking, why work your whole adult life and then die three months later?” Crannis said. “The day we buried him is the day I set my retirement. And I have not deviated from that.”
At that time, Crannis told herself her last day would be in 2014. Last week, the town announced that Crannis will retire on March 1.
“Many people, especially police officers, die shortly after they retire,” Crannis said. “We’ve had a few in this area who have died very shortly after they retired. I have too many things on my bucket list that I want to do.”
Crannis, the town’s first female police chief and one of the first women to be appointed to that position in Virginia, said this week that after almost 30 years with the department, she’s looking forward to riding her motorcycle, traveling, golfing and “enjoying a little bit of freedom.”
“I’m not leaving here to go to some other police department; I’m not leaving here to work anywhere else,” Crannis said.
“This has been my retirement date for 20 years, and I’m not changing it.”
Originally from Crewe, Va., Crannis said she knew she wanted to be a police officer at an early age. A state trooper lived in her neighborhood and she said he would stop everyday on his way to or from work to talk to the children playing outside.
“He let us kids kind of crawl through his car, and he’d spend time just talking to us,” Crannis said. “That was when I first thought about being a police office. Of course there weren’t women in law enforcement back then so it was really more of a dream than it was a reality.”
That changed when Crannis went to Ferrum College to study public administration. There, she said she had an instructor who told her she could do whatever she wanted to do.
“That’s kind of how I started thinking it was going to be a reality and not just a dream,” Crannis said.
After graduating, she put out several applications. Blacksburg was the first to call.
Crannis, 52, said that when she came to the department in 1984, there were 26 police officers — including one woman. Now, there are 63 sworn officers, seven of whom are female, she said.
She faced some difficulties as a woman when she first started, but those difficulties were “very short-lived,” she said.
Crannis remained a patrol officer until 1987 before being promoted to detective. She said she stayed in that position for a short time because, as a female, she was given only sex crimes and juvenile cases.
In 1988, she became a sergeant, and in 1991, she was promoted to lieutenant. Three years later, she moved into professional standards, where she stayed for five years before becoming a captain in 1999.
Being chief was not her ultimate goal at first because she “had too much fun being a police officer,” but Crannis said she eventually went to Virginia Tech to get her master’s degree in public administration in order to move up within the department.
She became interim chief in the summer of 2006 after former chief Bill Brown retired. She officially began her role as chief in October 2006. Unlike Brown, who is now the vice chair of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, Crannis said she does not have any future public service plans at the moment.
“I might get on a board or a commission sometime in the future but really for the first six months or so, I just want to enjoy the things I want to do over the summer,” Crannis said.
During her time as chief, Crannis, who currently earns $112,419 a year, increased the number of officers and staff members in the department, added three police K-9s, updated the department’s technology infrastructure, and collaborated with Virginia Tech, Christiansburg and the county to regionalize the 911 system – an initiative scheduled for completion by 2015.
Last week, local law enforcement leaders talked with The Roanoke Times about Crannis’ time as chief. Tech police Chief Wendell Flinchum, Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Whitt and Christiansburg Police Chief Mark Sisson spoke of her interactions with their departments and the respect she has gained both statewide and nationally.
Much of that respect is the result of her leadership during times of tragedy. Crannis was interim chief in August 2006 when William Morva shot and killed Montgomery Regional Hospital security guard Derrick McFarland and Cpl. Eric Sutphin of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and led officers on an intensive manhunt.
“I remember after Morva, Wendell and I standing over here in the street saying, ‘Gosh that’s the worst thing we’ve ever experienced.’ And it ended up not being,” Crannis said.
She became chief less than six months before the April 16, 2007, shootings on Virginia Tech’s campus.
“It’s hard to say what my tenure as chief would have been like if [April 16] had not happened,” Crannis said. “But I do think we’re very strong. This is a strong community here, and not just the police community. Sometimes tragedy just enhances that strength.”
Crannis keeps a picture of Norris Hall under the glass of her desk. The photograph is covered with handwritten notes from university personnel. Nearby, there’s a picture of Sutphin.
“My two reminders,” she said.
Crannis will be moving to the eastern part of Virginia after her retirement to be closer to her partner. Town Manager Marc Verniel will commence a search for her replacement.
“I’m the luckiest police chief in Virginia,” Crannis said. “The men and women of this department are the greatest of the great. And they will still be the greatest of the great even after March 1.”
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