In 1989, a young officer, Ed Roessler, went for a police ride-along on his first day with the Fairfax County Police Department alongside then-squad supervisor Mike Vencak. Nearly 13 years later, Vencak is succeeding his fellow New York native Roessler as commander of the Reston Substation.
On Aug. 24, Capt. Roessler became Major Roessler when he took control as the commander of the Fairfax County Police Patrol Bureau, Division One. After two and a half years overseeing the Reston substation, Roessler and his promotion move him to headquarters in Fairfax. Meanwhile, Vencak comes to Reston from Fairfax County Animal Services, where he was stationed for almost two years.
"Ed's done a great job here and the nice thing about this transition is he was promoted out of here, so there is no inference that he wasn't doing this or doing that," Vencak said of his predecessor Roessler. "It makes it a little harder for me — bigger shoes to fill."
<b>BORN AND RAISED</b> in the blue-collar community of Farmingdale, N.Y., Vencak's father was a Nassau County police officer and the new commander says it was his lifelong goal to be in law enforcement, as well. In his hard-nosed Long Island neighborhood, civil service was the way to go, he said. "You had a guaranteed job, so ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a police officer," he said recently from his new Reston office. "I was very fortunate because ever since I was kid all I ever wanted to be was a cop, and here I am."
After completing two years of schooling at the State University of New York at Farmingdale (Vencak finished his bachelor's degree at George Mason University in January), Vencak decided to follow his law enforcement dream to Northern Virginia. With his wife, Andrea, a native of Brooklyn, the captain moved to Virginia where he has lived, just outside of Manassas, for the last 24 years, all of which he has spent with the Fairfax County Police Department.
Five years into their new adventure south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Vencak, an avid fan of New York's Mets, Jets and Islanders, had a chance to return to his northern roots and to follow his father's legacy, to take a position with the Nassau County police department. Despite their love of the Empire State, the Vencaks decided to stay in the commonwealth to work and raise a family. Vencak's 17-year-old daughter will be a senior in high school in Prince William County this year. "We just loved the area," he said, his New York accent still readily identifiable. "We decided to stay down here and we haven't once regretted it, not once."
<b>WHILE HE IS HAPPY</b> to call Northern Virginia home, Vencak is even more excited to be back in a police station. For almost 22 years, he moved from station house to station house, until he was called to duty as the commander of the county's understaffed Animal Services Division which oversees animal control, the county animal shelter and the wildlife division. Vencak called his slightly more than two years at animal control, "a valuable learning experience."
But clearly, he is happier and more comfortable at a police station. "It's great to be back in police work where my career track has been," he said.
Vancak's experience both administratively and on the street will, according to Roessler, be a "tremendous benefit to the Reston Community because animal issues are near and dear to Reston citizens' hearts."
If Vencak was looking for a break from the hectic schedule at Animal Control (officers there respond to an average of 12-15 calls per day, he said), he does not seem to have found it in Reston. In the last two weeks, Vencak has had a bank robbery, home invasion robbery, an stabbing on the W&OD trail, a homicide and the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11. "Yeah, it's been a little busy," he said, laughing. "But, so far it has been very good even if the last three days have been 16 hour days. All part of the job."
He is also excited about being in Reston. Having worked in the county's criminal investigation's bureau and narcotics beats over the course of his nearly quarter-century of service, Vencak is not wholly unfamiliar with Reston.
"The nice thing about coming to Reston is that of the seven police stations that [Fairfax County] currently has, only two of them I have not worked out of as a patrol officer and they were Reston and McLean," he said. "So this is all new to me and that's exciting."
The area's newest head lawman hasn't overlooked Reston's community and civic pride. Vencak said he has worked all over Northern Virginia like Mt. Vernon. But, he said, "nobody ever says they are from Mt. Vernon."
"They always say they are from Sequoia or Buckman or Bellhaven, but never Mt. Vernon," he said. "That's not the case here, the people here are from Reston. Reston is unique in that respect. When you talk to people from Reston, they are from Reston."
This will allow Vencak the opportunity to concentrate to deal more easily with the issues that face Reston.
<b>"BY DEALING WITH GROUPS</b> like the Citizens Advisory Council, meeting with the community leaders, the neighborhood groups, we try to tailor our work to their needs to fit it into the big picture Fairfax County," he said.
So, what does the new commander of the Reston Substation think are the most critical issues facing his new community? In a word: Gangs. Vencak said he is ready to tackle the increasing problem of youth violence. What disturbs Vencak and others in the county is the recent gang activity directed at non-gang members. Traditionally, in Fairfax County, gang violence had been largely limited to gang-on-gang warfare, but with incidents like the July 4 melee at Lake Fairfax, gangs have begun to "cross the line."
"We're going to put an end to this," Vancak promised. "Gang issues are a major problem. Not every group of kids hanging out on the street corner is a gang, but citizens read the word 'gang' in a newspapers and they right away assume they are a gang. We need to continue educating the public about what to look out for on the streets. In reality, the majority of those kids are just killing time. You need to remember that when you look at a youth out in Reston, they are not all bad. The majority — 98 percent of them —are good kids."
His predecessor Roesser agreed with Vencak. "Our biggest challenge is to help them become productive citizens, because if we do that we make our jobs in the future much easier."
Vencak said residents are not the only ones who occasionally rush to judgment when they see a 14-year-old baggy-pants wearing youth on the street corner. Officers, he said, are also sometimes guilty of misjudging assembled youth. "A lot of young cops don't have a lot of life experiences," he said. "They lived at home, went to college, and became a cop. A lot of time it is either us or them. You are either a cop or you are one of them."
Working closely with the community and educating the public on what indicators to look out for are the best ways to combat youth violence, the captain said. Ironically, 9/11 has made community policing easier for the police, Vencak said. "I think 9/11 heightened everyone's awareness of what's going on," he added.
"For example, coming in this morning, I was hearing a lot of calls over the radio about suspicious persons and suspicious vehicles, stuff that maybe people didn't think about in the past."
<b>THE RESTON COMMUNITY</b> is so spread out and has so many neighborhoods, Vencak said, that his men and women need the help of civilians on the street. "
Even if an officer has been on the beat for years, there is no way he is going to know who belongs and who doesn't," he said. "The citizens know what is strange. If they see something they haven't seen before, now we are getting calls before anything happens."
The overwhelmingly positive public reaction after Sept. 11 went "a long way for officers to realize that "it is not us versus them," Vencak said.
"Since 9/11, there is more recognition and contact from the public. Ninety-nine percent of the public out here appreciates what we do and trust in the job we do and a lot of them since last year now come out and tell us," he said.
"People will come up to us and thank us for what we are doing. I think it has pulled the entire community together."