Ron Campurciani has led MPD through difficult period after murder of Officer Sheldon
BY MIKE FUHRMAN
Ron Campurciani faced a daunting task when he was appointed interim chief at the Mooresville Police Department in June.
Police Chief Damon Williams had been placed on administrative leave while an outside firm conducted an investigation of allegations of toxic work conditions at the MPD. Morale was dismal and — barely a month removed from the on-duty murder of K-9 Officer Jordan Sheldon — officers were still visibly hurting.
When Campurciani was named interim chief at another agency earlier in his career, he took on the role of caretaker. He kept the agency moving forward, but he did not make any dramatic changes until after he received the permanent appointment.
The veteran lawman said that strategy was not an option in Mooresville. With a mandate to make hard changes, he rolled up his sleeves and began a department-wide review that culminated in an overhaul of the command structure at the MPD – and he did so with little regard for whether he would eventually be named the permanent chief.
“They were sort of walking into walls here,” recalled Campurciani, who was named permanent chief by Town Manager Randy Hemann before Christmas. “It was clear they needed some direction.”
Job No. 1, Campurciani said, was helping the officers navigate the grieving process. That meant providing the officers with resources and helping their loved ones support them. About 160 people attended a gathering for MPD officers and their families designed to begin that difficult process.
“We’re a family. We’ll get through this together,” Campurciani told the group. “We’ve got to get stuff out and then we’re going to move on. But we’re going to move on together.”
Officers were encouraged to express their feelings, which ran the gamut from anger to sadness. Officers who could not put words to how they felt were told that was okay too.
After other agencies stepped in to provide coverage in the aftermath of Officer Sheldon’s murder, MPD patrol officers had returned to the streets. In order to do their jobs, many had compartmentalized their feelings about what happened on May 4, when Sheldon, 32, was shot twice in the head after stopping a vehicle on West Plaza Drive. Many officers simply couldn’t talk to their spouses about their feelings.
In the aftermath of the large family gathering, a group of officers’ spouses – with Campurciani’s blessing and support — started the Blue Light Spouses Group. The purpose of the group is to help spouses and family members understand what the officers have gone through – and support them. Quarterly meetings and a presence on social media help the group stay connected.
But expressing their feelings about the tragic loss of Officer Sheldon did not change how many of the officers felt about working at the MPD. During his first few weeks as interim chief, Campuciani realized many officers felt estranged from the command staff and “were waiting for the other shoe to fall” after Williams was placed on leave.
It did not take a lot detective work to conclude that the organizational structure that Chief Williams had in place was not serving the officers, the MPD as a whole or the community very well, Campurciani said. The approval of too many high-ranking officers was required to implement new ideas, requests bottlenecked in the administrative wing, and very little got accomplished, frustrating officers at all levels, he added.
“There never seemed to be an answer to why things did not get done,” he explained. “Everything went to a black hole somewhere.”
Under the new organizational structure Campurciani has implemented, decision-making and accountability is pushed down the chain of command to corporals, sergeants and captains.
“Corporals will start making decisions they have never made before, and they are going to take care of things,” the chief said.
As a result, these supervisors will be more prepared for career advancement when the opportunity arises. In the past, Campurciani said, some MPD personnel were apprehensive about applying for promotions because they felt unprepared.
Officer empowerment and accountability are critical to the MPD’s future success, the new chief said. That’s why Campurciani asked all personnel to weigh in during a review of departmental procedures and policies.
Officers with expertise in certain areas offered some great suggestions, he said. For example, an officer complained that MPD’s promotional policies did not credit officers for supervisory experience they acquired at other law enforcement agencies. Campurciani agreed and changed the policy.
“We take their feedback and make decisions,” he said. Everyone will not always agree, “but at least everybody has buy-in.”
Everything Campurciani has done, he said, is driven by a simple philosophy: “We have to give officers the best training we can. We have to equip them with the best equipment we can, and we have to support them.”
Before the six-month contract he signed as interim chief was up, Campurciani named three new assistant chiefs and approved a total of 17 promotions. When he announced the top promotions at a town commission meeting in early December, he said morale was up and described it as a new day at the MPD.
About two weeks later, Hemann announced that he had offered Campurciani the chief position on a permanent basis – and Campurciani had accepted.
“We received 40 applications for this position from both inside and outside of North Carolina. We were very pleased with the pool of candidates from which we could make a selection,” the town manger told Iredell Free News.
“After an assessment center consisting of three internal staff and one external law enforcement officer, Ron Campurciani was selected to serve as Mooresville’s Police Chief. During his first six months here, Campurciani made significant contributions toward taking the services we provide our employees to the next level. He came to us at a difficult time and has earned the respect of his team.
“His wealth of knowledge and experience will serve the Mooresville Police Department and Town of Mooresville well,” Hemann added.
Campurciani, who will earn $125,000 annually, is thrilled to have the opportunity to continue leading the MPD.
“It truly has been the honor of my lifetime to have spent these past months with all of you,” he wrote to officers after accepting the position. “I look forward to working with all of you as we move this department forward.”