Raised in a military family, Rachel Levy spent most of her life in Northern Virginia. She intended to follow in her father’s footsteps, careerwise – and for a while, she did.
“I’d planned to be an Army soldier like my dad,” she said. “For eight years, I served in Motor Transportation and was also in the Army Reserves.”
Ultimately, though, Levy took a different path. In 2005, she joined the Fairfax County Police Department, and she’s now commander of the Sully District Station.
“A friend attended the county’s Criminal Justice Academy to join the Sheriff’s Office and had a good experience, so I decided to apply,” explained Levy. “And a friend in another state had become a police officer, and that opened my eyes to it as a career.”
Graduating from the Academy in 2006, she was first assigned to the Franconia Station as a patrol officer and later, the shopping center officer at Springfield Mall. “Part of the Criminal Investigations Section is retail theft and fraud,” said Levy. “We apprehended people and did the investigations.”
At Franconia, “We were always busy and handled a variety of calls,” she said. “I liked the station and the people.” Staying until 2014, she was promoted to sergeant and sent to the Mason District Station as a patrol supervisor.
“Mason’s also a busy station with great people, so it was a wonderful learning experience as a new supervisor,” said Levy. Then in 2016, she went to the Massey Building in Fairfax to work in the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, Investigations Division. While there, she was promoted to second lieutenant.
That division investigates cases of alleged wrongdoing by officers and professional staff members and also does internal investigations. “It’s a necessary job, and I learned a lot,” said Levy. “It’s a position you’re chosen for. I learned how the department works and its internal policies and did lots of writing. You’re finding facts to see if department policy wasn’t followed properly. It’s also about clearing [innocent] officers.”
There until 2018, Levy was next selected for the Major Crimes Bureau, Child Abuse Squad. “These can be hard cases to investigate, and you’re dealing with kids – an extremely vulnerable population,” she explained. “And you really have to take care of your detectives because of what they’re dealing with.” Levy was a supervisor; but after four months, she was promoted that December to first lieutenant and reassigned to Franconia.
But this time, she returned as assistant commander. “I was happy to go there,” she said. “I knew the station, its commander, and many of the officers and supervisors there, and was comfortable with them.”
She assisted the commander in running the station’s every-day functions. “You do a little of everything, both administrative and operational,” said Levy. “And you stand in, in the captain’s absence. It’s a team.”
Throughout her police career, she tried to glean as much knowledge as she could in every position she held. Franconia, especially, yielded that opportunity because it was always bustling with activity and a variety of cases. “It was also my first assignment as a commander, and I worked under a very good captain,” said Levy.
“It teaches you how to run a station efficiently and effectively and be a good leader,” she continued. “You’re responsible for a lot of personnel, and it prepares you to run your own station. It’s like running your own police department.”
Then in February 2020, Levy was chosen assistant commander of the department’s Personnel Resources Division (PRD) at county police headquarters. She was responsible for the recruitment, background investigation and hiring of all new police officers. Her duties also included dealing with their job applications and polygraph tests.
“If they look like a good candidate, you assign them to a background investigator or detective who later make reports and recommendations, and I’d review these reports,” said Levy. “I wouldn’t have picked that job for myself. But it opened my eyes to a whole other side of the department I wouldn’t have otherwise known.”
Around June 2020, her commander there was reassigned, and Levy became acting Personnel Resources Division commander. Later that summer, she was promoted to captain and became the commander. “It was a similar job, but I was the final reviewing authority,” she said. “The lieutenant and captain work together and offer positions in the upcoming police-academy class to qualified applicants. And once they graduate, we offer them jobs.”
However, in the national unrest following George Floyd’s death – as well as that of other individuals across the country at the hands of police – getting people to become police officers became a hard sell. “It was a challenging time for police departments nationwide because of COVID, plus overall media portrayal of the police,” said Levy. “Applicant numbers dropped significantly, after already doing so in the few years prior.”
Furthermore, she added, “A new generation entering the workforce wants different things. So, as PRD commander, I had to figure out what to do about it. I saw that some of our hiring processes were a little outdated – for example, using paper instead of digital files.
“So I worked to streamline things; I brought in software that conducts the background investigations more efficiently and in a shorter period. At the same time, I launched the first, independent, recruitment Website – joinfcpd.org – for the Police Department dedicated only to recruiting.”
Then in summer 2021, said Levy, “We looked at getting the FCPD brand to be the employer of choice. My team used a variety of advertising methods, such as Zoom career and hiring fairs; and later, we did it in person at various events. We had to be creative with how, where and what we advertised.”
Ultimately, she found a company specializing in police-department recruitment and branding. It produced videos for FCPD, further developed its Web page and did digital marketing and advertising.
“The other big thing I was able to do as PRD commander that summer was bring the 30x30 initiative to the department,” said Levy. The goal is to have 30 percent of recruits by 2030 be women. “It’s a nationwide program; just 12 percent of police nationwide are women. FCPD is higher than that and is working to increase it.”
The Website is 30x30initiative.org. Levy said Police Chief Kevin Davis is a “huge proponent” of it. “We also have a program to hire minorities,” said Levy. “We want our police department to mirror our community, so we also do lots of recruitment in Fairfax County, which is a melting pot – and that also attracted me to this department.”
As an agency, she said, “We’re looking at well-rounded individuals and also those speaking different languages. We’re trying to recruit veterans, too, and people with valuable skills, such as communication ability, compassion and empathy. Psychology majors are also important. Then they all go through the academy.”
During her own career, said Levy, “I had a team of people working with me, and supportive commanders. Policing is a team sport – you need the support of everyone to be successful.”
She also helps command the department’s Search and Rescue team. And last spring, she took the reins of the Sully District Station after its previous leader retired. “I always wanted to be a district station commander; and thankfully, the chief picked me to come here.”
“It’s great commanding a patrol station – it’s the backbone of the police department,” continued Levy. “I came here to work hard, and I’ve received a warm reception. I hadn’t worked on this side of the county before, so I had to learn about Sully and its neighborhoods. There are lots of excellent police officers and supervisors here; my priority is taking care of my officers’ wellbeing and making sure our patrols are well-staffed.”
She said they’re here “to fight crime effectively and serve the community. I added another officer to our Neighborhood Patrol unit, for four people total, plus an officer dedicated full time to traffic enforcement and safety – which is also a community priority.”
Levy and Lt. Matt Dehler, the station’s assistant commander, also participate in Commanders in the Community, making it easier for residents to connect with them at places near their homes. They meet informally at, for example, local coffee shops where people ask them questions and discuss what’s happening in the district.
Overall, said Levy, her job’s both challenging and fulfilling. “It’s busy because a patrol station operates 24/7,” she said. “The best part is working with such dedicated officers and with the community. Seeing people do good police work and grow in their careers is very rewarding.”