Chief Eric Randall sits at his large wooden desk in his somewhat-empty new office of the Pensacola Police Department, several boxes still needing to be unpacked. A friendly, calming presence with a kind smile, Randall is already winning over the hearts and minds of the Pensacola community and the dedicated police officers who make up the respected department with his ultra-engaged approach to policing. However, one should not make the mistake of not taking Pensacola’s newest Chief just as seriously as his predecessors: Randall’s background is filled with robust experience, unique training, and a passion to deter violent crime.
Eric Randall was born right here at Sacred Heart hospital, like many other Pensacolians. He attended Booker T. Washington High School, and the former Wildcat later went off to serve his country in the U.S. Navy after graduation. Randall spent eight years in the Navy supporting and defending our constitution, where he was stationed aboard the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. His naval career allowed him to travel all over the world- to which he credits his appreciation of our great nation- yet he spent the majority of his time stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.
“When you get out of the country, you realize how valuable being a United States citizen is, because you realize that not everyone has the same freedom and diversity in their culture and values that we have,” Randall explained.
The young Eric Randall eventually began volunteering as an auxiliary officer at the Newport News Police Department after his tenure in the Navy had ended, as public service remained in his blood. He was soon hired on as a full-time police officer, and steadily rose through the ranks, working his way up into investigations where he then was given multiple assignments. Every assignment he was given seemed to involved community engagement, which he believed helped him grow further as an individual and as an officer.
Randall obtained two degrees from St. Leo University while attending numerous leadership and critical incident training programs. His colleagues saw him as the person who often “helped other people manage…bringing calm to the chaos.” It became clear as Randall’s career progressed that community engagement and crime reduction was his true passion. When it came to addressing violent crime, in particular, he seemed to take the issue personally. Survivors and victims of violent crime were not just numbers, but actual people who were seeking answers and assistance. Randall would do everything in his power to give them the closure, answers and assistance that they deserved.
Randall believes he stood out above the other candidates for Chief due to this passion for the job, in combination with his unique work experience on rather tough assignments. He has been referred to as a “cop’s cop,” having worked his way up through the ranks, and is aware of exactly what it is like to be in many different roles. “What greater opportunity than to be home-grown, and then get to come back home, bringing back international experience to our community?” Randall asks. Randall prepared to apply for this position for a very long time. When a job in his hometown actually became available, it was a no-brainer to apply for this position, to work hard to obtain it, and to strive to be successful at it.
Randall feels that having a background in investigations and administration has helped prepare him for his service as the current Chief of Police. He prides himself on a love of collaboration with different, diverse organizations, whom he refers to as his partners. These “partners’ include both private sector entities as well as law enforcement agencies and individuals.
“Having a diverse team to collaborate with will help provide a sustainable solution to community concerns, and broadens the scope on how to deal with an issue,” Randall explains. With an extremely deep networking database of mentors and colleagues at his disposal, Randall will be able to reach out to many localized experts, such as other Chiefs or Assistant Chiefs, with whom he has developed relationships with over the years via attending training programs, conferences, or through the FBI Task Force.
Upon reflection, Randall feels that Newport News Police Department is different, and yet also quite similar, to the Pensacola Police Department. Most notably, the type of government controlling the agency is different. In Newport News, a council manager controls most city decisions and budgets, as opposed to the “strong mayor” form of government that Pensacola has. The agency itself is also much larger in Virginia. With about 600 employees in Newport News, Randall is more familiar with helping to lead a larger number of staff, compared to the about 200 police department employees here at the Pensacola Police Department. Though both agencies feel the same about community engagement and choose to focus heavily on this aspect of policing, Randall does concede the PPD’s social media strategy is unique to anything he’s ever seen before. Randall believes that violent crime was a more prominent issue in Newport News, however, he does feel that both agencies can utilize similar strategies and approaches to reducing their violent crime rates.
Since initially getting hired by the City of Pensacola, Chief Randall has made an extraordinary effort to meet with key community stakeholders to discuss critical issues related to criminal justice and our legal system. “I recently just met with the Baptist Minister’s Union, who expressed the importance of diversity in our hiring practices,” Randall stated. Along with diversity in hiring, other important issues that community stakeholders would like to see addressed are police/community interactions, the mental health of our police officers, and more adequate officer training.
Other groups Randall has met with include law enforcement partners (including other agencies nearby), media partners, and the employees themselves, which he sees as one of the most important groups to meet with. “Our employees want stability and strong leadership that cares. Listening to them, and being able to meet their needs, is incredibly important,” Chief Randall expressed.
Randall also enjoys popping in to various places or functions, often unscripted and unplanned, to speak with citizens and to gauge their feedback on the department. Randall, so far, has gotten mostly positive feedback during these community pop-ins. “There are, of course, issues that arise, but overall people are extremely complimentary of the police department. However, there is always room for growth as we continue to strive for excellence.”
Randall considers his former Chief of Police in Newport News, James Fox, one of his leadership role models. Chief Fox taught Randall to “have guts,” and that the “mic is always on,” meaning that one should always behave as if the world was watching and listening. He always instilled in him to be “fair but firm,” Randall stated, fondly thinking back on his mentor. Chief Fox, like Chief Randall, was a man who was “always thinking” and who many say had a deep passion for his job.
Impressively, Randall was honored in 2014 with the Homeless Outreach Collaborative Team Outstanding Community Service Award. As Pensacola faces a homeless crisis today, Randall’s compassionate nature and in-depth experience in this area are likely to be an asset to our city. While working with the Newport News Outreach Team, while assisting with the annual “point in time” count of the city’s homeless population, Randall’s role was to ensure that the officers who were with the outreach workers were respectful of the homeless population, as well as their belongings. The Newport News Police Department would often get calls when belongings were left behind, and would go the extra mile to find out who the items belonged to, to connect the homeless to services and veterans support, and to collaborate with the outreach team on a regular basis.
“In today’s times, we should be very respectful…we should treat people with the utmost respect and dignity, be empathetic and be versed in the appropriate resources that are available in our community so that we can help them navigate these challenges,” Randall explained. He referenced an incident where he spoke to an unhoused man who was on the street corner back in Virginia, and asked him why he didn’t simply go to the social services building, which was just 200 feet away. The man stated that because of COVID, the building was locked down and that he did not have a computer or internet access by which to apply for this facility’s services. The man was also unaware that a day center had been opened in the city where he could seek help.
The need for a day center in the city where our homeless population can access resources, particularly have internet access, is great. Randall believes that law enforcement’s role is to be supportive and understanding in helping these members of our community in navigating these challenges, while being impartial and fair. Randall is dedicated to working with those in our community who are leading the effort to make changes in this highly important area. “We are here to protect the homeless population as well as those who are not homeless. We need to listen to those in the encampments and document their needs. We need more visibility from marked units.”
Chief Randall has many priorities for PPD in terms of transparency, enforcement, and even budgeting- and he has a proven track record of success in each of these areas. He is always looking for opportunities to reduce spending. For example, at Newport News, Randall supported a police vehicle program that allowed for collaboration on an integrated process for vehicle purchasing. This program allowed for a study to look at individual equipment vendors, which then led to developing a one-stop shop for police vehicles, so that the department could save money.
Other priorities include diversity in hiring and recruiting, and transparency on all levels. Randall believes that being open and honest with the public is vital to the department’s success and to building trust with the community. He is currently looking into developing a dashboard that will allow the public to have daily reports of crime mapping. These reports would specify where the PPD actually receives incident reports and would be made available, online, to the public each day, most likely in a map format. Randall also wants to incorporate civilians into the hiring and promotion process of officers. “Ideally, I’d like to have civilians next to me to vet promotions,” Randall says.
Chief Randall summarized his philosophy on policing by emphasizing respect, dignity, collaboration, and accountability. “Police are the community, and the community are our police,” Randall emphasizes. “Policing is important, but it needs to be done in a collaborative way with our community. We will hold people accountable, but we must also look for educational opportunities and use discretion. Every interaction does not have to lead to a negative altercation. Treating others with respect and dignity is so important.”