Virginia Capitol Connections Winter 2023
He kept us safe By BONNIE ATWOOD
with tourists, national and international, asking them where they are from, and sharing some of Virginia’s awesome history. That was the good part of the job. Then along came COVID-19. There was no manual for that. Within 24 hours, he had an unprecedented, big time emergency under his “watch.” After all, you can’t do law enforcement from your home office. He worked it out. Some of his employees took turns working from home. A mixed blessing was that there were fewer people in the public square to worry about. Not long after that was the death of George Floyd, which brought a multitude of demonstrators to the city. That was not all. There was a ransomware attack, and the serious threat that posed. “I learned a tremendous amount during these challenging events,” said Pike. These new events gave him much material to start incorporating into police policies. You don’t learn that at a “best practices” conference; you learn it by living it. “I’m proud of the agency employees,” he said. “They worked as a team, on how to best provide security through a pandemic that our country had never experienced before. We did the best we could do.”
It’s a delicate balancing act that few of us will ever face, with consequences both deadly and long lasting. Through a pandemic, city unrest, and the expected responsibilities of a police force, Col. Steve Pike, not only kept the citizens safe, but preserved the dignity and the historic significance of the sacred grounds under his care.
Pike, 57, retired at the end of 2022. He was the longest serving chief of Capitol Police, and gained the trust of his force, the legislature, and everyone with whom he came in contact. Pike came to the Capitol Police in 2010. A year later, he became chief—the longest running chief Virginia has had. Little did he know what he was in for. How does he accomplish the almost-impossible? In this reporter’s opinion, the answer boils down to this: He tells his men and women: “Leave your politics at home.” Regardless of how strongly they may feel personally about the controversies of the day—gun rights, abortion, race—they all go away when one puts on the uniform and reports for duty as a law enforcement officer. This is the stuff that has earned him the praise of his colleagues: “Col. Steve Pike is to be commended for continuing the storied traditions and services of our nations oldest police department. He was able to make needed progress by building on the foundations laid by past agency leaders. The Capitol and its unique citizens have greatly benefitted from his leadership and involvement in daily operations. Col. Pike will depart and leaves the department improved in many ways. The Virginia Capitol Police will continue the tradition of protecting the history of our Commonwealth and nation.” Those are the words of Chief Michael A. Jones (Ret) Virginia Capitol Police/ Town of Altavista Police/Town of Hurt Police. To put it more succinctly, by Officer Diane Dowdy, a current police officer: “He was a good one.” It all started with Pike’s family. His father worked for the police in Wythe County, Virginia, and was elected sheriff for 20 years, followed by work on the parole board and service as a U.S. Marshal. Even before his high school graduation in Wythe in 1987, Pike visited an Army recruiter and came out an enlisted man. His tour of duty was delayed so that he could finish high school, after which, he boarded a bus to Fort Benning, Georgia, and then to Fort Ord, California. He served four years of active duty, followed by two years in the reserves. Next stop was in 1988 as a game warden for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. In spite of the title, this job is no “day at the beach.” He worked boating accidents and other treacherous incidents. After 23 years of that “fast paced” occupation, Pike said he wanted to do something different. We’re not sure he went to a different pace, but he transferred to the Virginia Capitol Police, determined to keep it nonpartisan and keeping the area a safe place. In the ensuing 11 years, he has dealt with no less than 700 permitted and unpermitted protests. When asked what was his worst day, Pike did not hesitate. It was the death ofWoodrow “Buddy” Dowdy on March 9, 2021. He was an early victim of COVID-19. Dowdy (no relation to Diane) had been a 33-year veteran of the agency, and a beloved longtime member of the Capitol Police Honor Guard, the mainstay of what is known as Capitol Square’s Post 1 at the entrance to Capitol Square. The best day? Again, no hesitation. It was the September birth of Jaxon, Pike’s grandson. His parents are Henrico County Police Officers. Baby Jaxon is one of the primary reasons why Pike is ready to retire—for plenty of granddaddy time. Though Pike just missed Queen Elizabeth’s 2007 visit toVirginia, he truly values the history of the places he oversees. He always talks
One thing that Pike has found interesting is learning the legislative process. His interest has not gone unnoticed among the leadership: Says Senate Majority Leader, Richard L. Saslaw: "I've worked alongside many people over the years on Capitol Square and Colonel Pike ranks among the best. He has been a steadfast leader who guided us through unprecedented challenges over his eleven years as Chief. His retirement is well-earned and his presence will be missed. Congratulations, Steve, and best wishes on your next adventure." Pike may have missed Queen Elizabeth, but he didn’t miss Abraham Lincoln. He took in the filming of “Lincoln,” as well as the “American Idol” on Bank Street, and the major upgrades to Capitol Square. He recognizes his job as security, but also protecting the esthetics of these historic surroundings. Preservation is a big deal to him. He and his colleagues study photos of earlier eras and try to maintain the original designs, such as in the guardhouses built in the 1800s. Guardgates are of the utmost importance. As recently as November. A drunk driver drove through the gate, headed toward the Executive Mansion. It was the police and the gate design that prevented disaster. Ray Goodlow, Deputy Chief of Operations, summed up Pike this way: “Has the right mix of humility and forward thinking.” Bonnie Atwood is an editor of Virginia Capitol Connections Magazine. V
V irginia C apitol C onnections , W inter 2023
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