by Aaron Layman
Whether working together with other local police departments or overseeing the upgrading of new equipment year after year, Vinton Police Chief Herbert Cooley has been a force in Vinton for over a decade. Law enforcement officials from Virginia and North Carolina, friends and well-wishers helped to bring Cooley’s storied 44-year law enforcement career to a close over a retirement dinner last Tuesday, featuring garlic herb chicken and lots of good-natured ribbing.
Fresh out of the Coast Guard, Cooley started his law enforcement career as a patrol officer in High Point, NC in 1966 before becoming Chief Deputy in Wythe County for 14 years and serving as Pulaski’s Police Chief shortly before coming to Vinton. Along the way, he earned degrees in behavioral science and administration of justice and master’s degrees in both criminal justice and risk management. He came to the department less than a year after the tumultuous departure of former Chief Ricky Foutz who, along with his lieutenant, resigned during a grand jury investigation into the mishandling of evidence.
Upon his arrival in August 2000, Vinton Town Council challenged Cooley to regain direction and move the department towards accreditation, a designation achieved in 2002. New accountability procedures Cooley instituted made sure that all equipment or evidence was accounted for from the time the department acquired it to the time it was disposed of. Since then, the department has been re-accredited twice.
In addition to Vinton’s solid accreditation status, Cooley brought a number of technological advances to the department during his tenure. Included were mobile data terminals for cars and digital in-car video systems to aid officers. He also involved the department in a valley-wide data-sharing initiative to exchange information with other departments and helped to start the now-popular Citizen’s Police Academy in Vinton.
Much of this was enabled by Cooley’s ongoing efforts in pursuing grants. During his eleven-year term as chief, he secured over $1.8 million in funds – equivalent to one year’s budget for the department. Capt. Ben Cook praised Cooley’s efforts to improve equipment. “Without those grants, we’d be struggling,” said Cook, noting that it helped to bring the department not only up-to-date technology, but also life-saving body armor.
Officials came from all over to wish him well, ranging from his High Point field officer trainer and lifelong friend Bill Collins, to Sean Tepfer from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Retired Vinton Lieutenant Andy Corbin praised him for being a strong proponent of training and leadership classes.
Capt. Steven Campbell, who served under Cooley in High Point, called him “a leader, a comrade, a brother-in-arms” and said that he “never lost sight of what a police department’s purpose is: to provide service.” Police Chiefs from Salem and Roanoke applauded him for his integrity and willingness to work with other departments.
Cooley demurred from taking all the credit for his success in Vinton over the past 11 years. He asked all of the Vinton police officers to stand up when he rose to speak, saying “this is why I look good, ladies and gentlemen.”
When asked what advice he had to give the Vinton Police Department as he moves to spend his retirement years in Myrtle Beach, Cooley said that wasn’t necessary, due to the force officers being well-trained, with solid leadership still in place. “I don’t think they’ll miss a beat.”