COURTHOUSE – Long before he became the deputy police chief overseeing professional standards here, a young John L. Bell Jr. wrote why he wanted to be a detective in a composition book. It would show that he was a good citizen, and it “also will show that I care for the safety of the citizens in the community … ”
Now 63, Bell received the Daniel M. Stone Humanitarian Award this past month during a dinner at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
His was one of six awards given during the annual program produced by the city human rights commission. Bell’s honor is named for the late human services director remembered for pride in public service.
In an interview, Bell said he was embarrassed to receive an award for doing the job he loves. He also said he has more work to do with the department in areas such as making the police force more diverse.
“I’d like to see us, before I leave, make a difference in our numbers to be more reflective of the community,” Bell said.
Bell oversees accreditation, professional development and training, as well as internal affairs. He said the department takes those responsibilities seriously. “I don’t think there’s a police department in the area that is as transparent as ours,” Bell said.
“We do the best we can to maintain the integrity of our organization,” he added. “We’re committed to policing ourselves.”
A lot of that involves realationships with the public, he noted. “It’s not just the police department. It’s the community, as well.”
City Councilmember Jim Wood, who has known Bell since the mid-1980s, said, “He’s always been a dedicated police officer and an extraordinary leader.”
Bell was born in New York, and worked in the New York City Transit Police Department before coming the Virginia Beach force in 1976. He was recognized, in part, for professional and personal work to build tolerance, education and engagement with citizens.
Achievements include leadership service with the Hampton Roads chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, past board member of the Hampton Roads Committee of 200+ Men, and an appointed position with the Virginia Secure Commonwealth panel.
He is also an active volunteer, including with the Men of Faith Day Watch Program, which works with suspended students on behavior issues.
In remarks during the dinner, Bell told a story about visiting a statue of Thomas Jefferson and reading the inscription about Jefferson’s works.
“It listed his first accomplishment as ‘public servant,’” Bell said, noting that this would be a fine way to be remembered in the community the deputy police cheif continues to serve.
The other honorees were:
► Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle, Meyera E. Oberndorf Human Rights for Achievement in Government Award
► Ray Vittum, Josh Underdown and Nick Gritta, who earned the Helen P. Shropshire Human Rights Youth Award
► Dr. Pamela Anne Bro
► The Hampton Roads Committee of 200+ Men
► The Department of Human Services “Pinkies” Program