William & Mary has named Don Butler, respected campus leader and accomplished law enforcement professional, chief of the university’s police department.
Butler has served as interim chief of police since June 1 and steps into his permanent role as W&M chief of police today.
“I have always been proud to be a member of law enforcement, but in William & Mary I have found my home,” Butler said. “I am proud to lead and work each day with the members of this department. William & Mary Police provides the highest standard of community policing. Each and every member is dedicated to this campus and that ideal.”
During his time at W&M, Butler has led the overhaul and full automation of both the department’s property and evidence function and criminal investigations file system, including implementation of a new report writing software. In 2019, he oversaw WMPD’s initial Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission accreditation prep and assessment that resulted in a perfect score. Butler has been recognized by the department with numerous honors, including the Chief’s Citation Award (2015) and the WMPD Employee of the Year Award (2017).
“William & Mary could not ask for a finer professional to serve as our next chief of police,” said Ginger Ambler, vice president of student affairs. “Don Butler brings years of experience to this critical role, and he is recognized statewide as an exceptional leader in law enforcement, emergency management and threat assessment. Most especially, Chief Butler is deeply committed to William & Mary, approaching his work with wisdom, integrity, a spirit of collaboration and an unwavering ethic of care for others. The health and safety of our campus community is ever his highest priority.”
A community-focused career
Before joining the W&M Police Department in 2012, Butler served for 20 years within the Portsmouth Police Department where he worked in Uniformed Patrol, Community Policing and Special Investigations. He began his career as an officer in 1992 and became a sergeant in 1997. In 2006, he was promoted to lieutenant.
At William & Mary, he was promoted to major in 2017 and became deputy chief in 2021. In 2022, Butler graduated from the Professional Executive Leadership School of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, where his cohort elected him as their spokesperson. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and law enforcement administration from St. Leo University and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Arizona State University.
As W&M’s chief of police, Butler said his top priority is to maintain a campus environment in which all members of the W&M community can confidently pursue their goals and interests. He will also uphold the values of the W&M Police Department: integrity, community focus, professionalism and impartial policing.
He will work closely with community partners, including the Williamsburg Police Department, Williamsburg Fire, James City County Police, York County Police and Virginia State Police, among others. On campus, he will be looking to expand collaborations with the student body through the department’s Student Advisory Council.
Butler is quick to point out that a chief’s success depends on their team as a whole.
“The W&M Police Department staff is exceptional. I wouldn’t be comfortable taking this position if I didn’t trust and admire the current staff,” Butler said. “I’m confident in their ability to perform their duties to the high standard that the campus community associates with us.”
A team effort
One of the factors that makes the department staff exceptional is its diversity. An example of this is the number of women in the W&M police department.
Butler is a firm believer in the 30×30 Initiative, a national effort to increase the number of women in policing. According to this plan, women should make up 30% of the sworn officers serving in police departments by 2030. At 38%, the W&M Police Department has long since surpassed that.
“We’re ahead of the curve,” said Butler, “and I’m very proud of that.”
Butler steps into the role of chief following the retirement of Deb Cheesebro, who served as chief of police and associate vice president for public safety. Following her departure, the two positions were separated, and a national search for an AVP of public safety – who will oversee WMPD, Emergency Management, Risk Management and Environmental Health & Safety – will begin soon. Butler will fulfill those duties in the interim, and will also lead a national search for the police department’s next deputy chief.
Butler credits Cheesebro with creating an environment that attracts high quality personnel. She coined the phrase “work family” to describe the friendly, caring mindset in the department. Word of the positive environment has spread, leading to numerous high quality applicants.
Butler explains that Cheesebro was also key in helping him make the transition from municipal policing to campus policing.
“When I first came to W&M, I had administrative and operational experience in municipal law enforcement, but I did not have any experience in campus policing,” said Butler. “Deb taught me everything that I know about police work in a campus environment. She also created an agency that is accountable and value-driven, which has led to a strong, mutually beneficial relationship between the W&M Police Department and the rest of the campus community.”
Butler highly values the trust of the community and stresses that keeping the campus safe is a team effort. A highly-trained, professional staff that goes out into the field to do the work is essential, as is the support of the community from the Board of Visitors and upper administration to the staff, faculty, students and visitors, he said.
“We have all of that, so it’s the perfect situation for a police department that can meet the objectives of keeping the campus safe, inclusive and welcoming,” Butler said. “I can’t stress enough how important that is to us and for us. We are very, very fortunate here, and that’s why I’m so excited to be the face and the leader of this department.”
Laura Grove, Research Writer