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New chief getting to know officers by riding shotgun

Mayor Barbara Volk congratulates new Police Chief Blair Myhand on his swearing-in as Myhand’s wife, Nana, looks on. Mayor Barbara Volk congratulates new Police Chief Blair Myhand on his swearing-in as Myhand’s wife, Nana, looks on.


When he spotted an ad about a police chief job opening in Hendersonville, Blair Myhand was taken back 40 years, to the summer days when he played with cousins around his step-grandmother’s brick house on Third Avenue West.


“I knew what Hendersonville was. I had been here before,” he said. “My stepfather is from here. His sister and her daughters and their families still live here. It wasn’t foreign to me.”
Neither was the job description.
“When I read the announcement — what the city said it was looking for was exactly the type of leader that I was. It just spoke to me,” he said.
Myhand, 51, emerged from a months-long search as one of two finalists for the job and in January was picked by City Manager John Connet to become the new police chief. He succeeds Herbert Blake, who took a job as chief deputy under Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller last August after 12 years as the city’s top law enforcement officer.
In an interview last week, Myhand gushed about the welcome he has received from city employees and businesses. One business sent a box of brownies. After he enjoyed a lunch at Bay Breeze, the restaurant owners gave him a gift certificate.
“Everybody has been overwhelmingly welcoming and warm to us,” he said. At new-employee orientation last week, he looked around and marveled: “I’m the only person who’s not from here.”
“But I don’t feel like an outsider,” he added. “I envy the fact that I’m not from East, West or Hendersonville High School, because obviously there’s some (rivalry) history there. To be honest, it’s a very refreshing feeling for people to be sincere about, ‘We’re excited that you’re here’ and looking forward to what you’re going to do.”
Wardak province was
‘the wild wild west’
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Myhand graduated from high school in Nashville, Tennessee, and joined the Army. He was a sergeant in the National Guard when he deployed to Afghanistan in 2005. Assigned to a forward operating base in Ghazni, he led a 19-man reconnaissance platoon roving the rugged mountains in Wardak province, population 560,000.
“Imagine the sheriff had 19 deputies to patrol all of Henderson County — that’s kind of what it was like,” he said. “It was the wild wild west back then. We were gone for weeks at a time without ever going back to our base. We lived out in the country, hiked mountains, searched for the Taliban. It was exciting for me back then but I was a younger man back then.”
It was high-risk combat.
“I’ve been shot at, IED’d, rocketed, mortared — sometimes all in one night,” he said. “We had some very close calls. I don’t know how we didn’t get blown up. I was lucky to bring all the guys back from my platoon.”
When he came home, he moved from Washington, D.C., where he had served on the Metro police force, and joined the Apex police department. Still in the National Guard, he was sent to combat again, this time in Iraq. By then a 1st sergeant, he led a platoon of infantry soldiers that patrolled an area 20 miles south of Baghdad that U.S. troops called the “triangle of death.”

Clayton ‘chapter is closed’
After rising to the rank of captain at the Apex police department, Myhand was hired in 2017 as police chief in Clayton. In what he and Connet have described as a shift in the political winds, Myhand was placed on administrative leave from the chief’s job. In January, Clayton’s city manager dropped a 400-page draft report on the City Council dais that he said detailed a “culture where various forms of misbehavior were tolerated,” the Raleigh News & Observer reported. (The city manager refused to release the draft report on the grounds that an investigation is ongoing.)
Connet has said he is convinced
Myhand did nothing wrong. “Clayton a few years ago hired a manager and police chief that they wanted to be very professional and raise the standards,” Connet said when he announced Myhand’s hiring on Jan. 15. “Over time, things changed and the council felt like they needed to go in a different direction, which is perfectly within their right.”
Myhand was aware of the Clayton city manager’s report.
“I don’t know what is in it because I haven’t seen it,” he said. “I do know that the manager was asked, was I the subject of any allegations that was being investigated and he said no and that was reported” by a local television station. “Since leaving there, I am making a conscious effort not to pay attention to the things that are going on there because I have put that behind me. I hope that that chapter is closed and I’m looking forward to the future.”

Riding shotgun
The future will bring a major change, in the works long before the police chief’s job became vacant. The city is building a new $11.5 million police station on Ashe Street in the Historic Seventh Avenue District. Myhand describes that as a source of pride but for now his focus is on human resources. He is getting to know the officers that patrol the streets. Hendersonville and Clayton have exactly the same number of sworn officers — 45 — and a similar-sized police department budget. The new chief is practicing management by riding shotgun.
“I want them to be more comfortable in their office than sitting in my office,” he said of his patrol shifts. “I get to see the city more, riding around with them and (having them) showing me stuff. My No. 1 goal right now is to get to know the staff and really hear what their concerns are, the things they think we should focus on as an organization.”
After 18 days on the job, he detects from the force “a really positive culture and attitude about their city, about the department.”
“They’re glad to be employees here, they really like working for the city,” he said. “My No. 1 goal is to make sure we are policing fairly, ethically, treating everybody equally in this community. I don’t want anybody to feel disparaged or left out or mistreated. I don’t have any indication that the opposite of that (fair treatment) is happening right here, but that is one of my goals — to make sure police officers really understand what our role in society is. We are not punishers.”
Thanks in part to his time with the Metro Police Department in majority-African American Washington, D.C., Myhand said, “I’m very comfortable in the black community.” In Hendersonville, he said, wants to meet residents where they live and he wants to hear their concerns.
“I have no idea what it’s like to be a black person in America … but I have to believe that if a person feels this way (that they’re a victim of racism) that it’s real to them,” he said. “At the end of the day, we all want the same thing and I don’t want to be part of a continuing problem. … I want to hear what they have to say because if we could do something better, why wouldn’t we?”
Over time, he sees a shift to “analysis driven” policing that looks at trends of car crashes, crime and complaints “so we can deploy our people effectively.”

Bo loves the mountains
Myhand and his wife found a home just outside the city limits, three miles from City Hall. (He wanted to live
in the city but could not find an affordable home, he said.) Nana, his wife,
was able to keep her job with a Raleigh-based venture capital firm, working
remotely.
They share their home with Bo, a 12-year-old Shelty.
“I call him Bo, Bodacious, Bojangles — anything with Bo in it,” Myhand said. Bo seems to think the Blue Ridge Mountains are the fountain of youth. “I don’t know if it’s the coolness of the mountain air but he acts like he’s 3, running around,” Myhand said. “There’s a little retaining wall and he’s jumping off of it and his legs are not strong enough to do that. He’s chasing bunnies in the backyard. He’s having a good ol’ time.”
So is the new chief, riding shotgun, meeting lots of people and scoping out the lay of the land.