Our brand new police chief, Laura Fahnestock, did not land in Fuquay-Varina by accident. Born in Raleigh and raised in Wake County, Fahnestock has always considered this area of the state her home. After a 24-year career with the Rocky Mount Police Department, she knew that Fuquay-Varina was where she wanted to be as Police Chief.
The daughter of a Raleigh police captain, Nelson Lockey, Fahnestock followed in her father’s footsteps. “I knew from an early age that I wanted to be in law enforcement,” she explains. “I used to sneak downstairs at night to see what cases he was working on at the dinner table.” After high school at Millbrook High School, she enrolled at Wake Tech’s criminal justice program. While there, she completed an internship with the Raleigh Police Department conducting foot patrols in downtown Raleigh and along Hillsborough Street during the revitalization era as part of a Citizen’s Patrol Program. Upon completion of her Associate’s degree, she enrolled at North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Justice and Public Policy. Again she participated in an internship through the college, this time through the Rocky Mount Police Department, and ended up applying for a police officer position while she was still taking exams and finishing course work. “I was hired before I graduated,” she recalls. “I was in the basic law enforcement training academy for my job before I graduated college.”
Her job in Rocky Mount kicked off a career in law enforcement that broke barriers and set trends. Beginning in 1991, Fahnestock worked every police beat in the City of Rocky Mount, which is approximately three times larger than Fuquay-Varina. She married her husband, Van, in 1992, just one year after becoming an officer. “I’ve known Van since third grade, when we sat next to each other at Longview Elementary School,” she laughs. “We didn’t date until college, but we basically grew up together.” She wanted him to know what a life in law enforcement was about before they were married, which they did.
Shortly thereafter, she became the community relations officer for the department, where she worked on community outreach projects city-wide. In 1994, she was promoted to corporal and trained police officers and served as a precinct supervisor in the absence of the platoon sergeant. A year later she was promoted to sergeant – the first female sergeant in Rocky Mount. Working on patrol, she supervised 5-8 officers at a time and was the watch commander over the city when the lieutenant was off duty. In 1995, she became pregnant with her daughter, Victoria, and was transferred to a light duty assignment. During this time she gained experience writing grants, modernizing policies, developing a new shift schedule for patrol operations and assisting with internal affairs investigations. Her pregnancy was something else that the RMPD hadn’t had to face with male officers, but this opportunity assisted in Fahnestock’s career development. She moved back to a patrol night shift shortly after her daughter was born. Three years later, Fahnestock was moved to an administrative position where she oversaw community services officers, housing authority officers, reservoir officers, courtroom operations, the telephone response program, the warrant program and budgeting for patrol services. She also assisted with internal affairs investigations and wrote grants, including one that formed the department’s first traffic safety unit. Her ability to write grants and policies facilitated a transfer to a new Planning and Development Unit within the Administrative Services Division where she supervised units to include crime analysis, training, recruitment, policy development, planning, accreditation and grant development. That unit also oversaw the development of the department’s first police academy in 2000 as well as the development and formation of the department’s special response team.
In 2001, Fahnestock was promoted to lieutenant, making her the first female lieutenant in Rocky Mount PD history. She started out supervising a patrol shift but soon moved back into an administrative position where she again was responsible for the police academy, grants, recruitment, training, crime analysis, budgeting, accreditation, technology development and policy development. In 2004, she was transferred to patrol services and supervised the East District. As that unit’s lieutenant, she started district community meetings and supervised 26 officers on night shift. In rapid fashion, she was promoted to captain in 2005, again the first female of that rank in Rocky Mount. As a captain, she managed patrol operations, the largest division in the police department with over 100 employees. She was the division commander responsible for four patrol shifts as well as a flex shift, the special operations section, the traffic unit, the reservoir unit and the animal control unit.
On top of her success as the only female captain, she went back to school and earned an MBA in 2008 from Northcentral University. She chose business over law enforcement for her advanced degree because it better reflected the administrative focus of her career at that point. “A focus on business and management was a better choice for me,” Fahnestock explains. “A police department is a business and should be operated like one. It made sense to take my education in that direction at that point in time.”
In 2009, Fahnestock transferred to the Criminal Investigations Division, overseeing 21 investigators and an administrative assistant. Her division handled all major crimes, such as homicides, kidnappings, burglaries, robberies, and sexual assault cases as well as a variety of other crimes to include narcotics investigations. She served as Public Information Officer during that time, and started an E-policing program, which posted community crime prevention tips and trends to the public. She also started a cold case unit that solved two cold case homicides in its first year of operation in 2009.
After three years, she went back to patrol as the senior department police captain and managed a division of 105 officers that worked four patrol shifts. In that capacity, she continued a focus on the department’s district concept that divided the city into four districts. She worked with each of the shift lieutenants, evaluating crime statistics and assigning accountability for those crimes occurring in the district through the use of the COMPSTAT program, which provides a way to present crime statistics so that resources can be allocated effectively. She also facilitated increased efforts to improving relationships between the police department and the community through ongoing outreach efforts. As the senior captain she also managed the department’s budget and assisted other divisions with the preparation of the department’s annual report and budgetary process.
Finally, in 2015, Laura Fahnestock knew that her next career step would have to take her way from the department she had served for 24 years. Her Chief was several years from retirement, so the only opportunity she had to advance in her career and become the leader of her own department would require her to consider other police agencies. So she began to look at her options. After ten years as a captain, she heard about the retirement of Larry Smith in Fuquay-Varina, and began to look into the position and the department. She and her husband had grown up in Wake County and visited Fuquay-Varina to get a feel for the community by visiting businesses and exploring neighborhoods as well as evaluating the police department. It didn’t take to long for them to both feel like Fuquay-Varina could be “home.”
“From all the research I conducted and the discussions I had with law enforcement peers across the state, I knew Fuquay-Varina was an exceptional department in a great town,” she smiles. “It’s been like coming home.”
With her daughter Victoria now a sophomore at a state university, Laura Fahnestock and her husband, Van, have made Fuquay-Varina their home and have been enthusiastically welcomed by the community. “It’s been fantastic,” she shares. “The employees at the police department are exceptional and were well-led by my predecessor. I’m looking forward to building on Larry’s successes.”
Chief Fahnestock has jumped into the new job with gusto. “I have met with every member of my department one on one, and conducted an “S.W.O.T.” analysis to determine the direction we need to head as a department by reviewing our strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats,” she says. “I’ve been out in the community, meeting with business leaders, school officials, community members and town leaders evaluating how we can enhance police operations and community engagement efforts. I intend to be engaged and involved in our community.” Her goal is to utilize data driven and intelligence-led policing strategies that engage the community in a variety of ways, as well as effectively using technology to reduce overall crime in the Town of Fuquay-Varina. The department unveiled its first Facebook page on September 1st and is enhancing how it is utilizing its records management software that will move the department toward a paperless system of reporting crime and managing crime statistics. The website has been updated and the department is modernizing policies and procedures.
Fahnestock is passionate about department training and recruitment. As such she has formed a recruitment team to visit Basic Law Enforcement Training academies across the state to promote the Fuquay-Varina Police Department to talented young police recruits. She is also reviewing training opportunities to address current trends occurring in policing so that police employees are prepared for an ever-changing policing environment.
The first ninety days in her position as Chief of Police has been rewarding for her. “I am blessed to work in such a wonderful community, and with the employees and community’s help, we will continue to work diligently to reduce overall crime in the Town of Fuquay-Varina and improve operations within the police department to be one of the best police agencies in the country.”