Durango Police Department Chief Kamran Afzal comes from a family of law enforcement officials, dating back to the early 1900s when his grandfather worked as a police officer in British India. His father, too, served as a naval officer in his native Pakistan, where Afzal lived until he was 15.
But that does not mean he saw it as his destiny.
“Growing up, I never thought I would live in the United States, and going to college, I never would’ve thought I’d be a police officer,” he said. “I am following in the footsteps of my grandfather.
Afzal immigrated from Karachi, Pakistan, to Springfield, Virginia, in 1982.
“America is viewed as a shining light,” Afzal said. “It is a tolerant country, and very respective of your background. Your success is based on your ability, not where your family came from.”
He said he considers himself a Virginian in every respect.
“I don’t often talk about my ethnicity being Pakistani,” he said. “If you think about core values and where you grow up as a teenager, that is Virginia for me.”
He has a wife of 21 years, Moniza, a teenage daughter in high school and a son who attends community college. The family plans to move to Durango after his daughter graduates high school next year.
Afzal’s life was on a different trajectory during his time in college. He has an undergraduate degree in economics from George Mason University and a graduate degree in public administration from Troy University.
“I thought I was going to be a banker; that was my focus at the time,” he said.
After graduating college, Afzal worked as a supervisor in a call center while looking for a job in his field of study. Despite doing several interviews, he wasn’t getting any calls back.
“The passion just didn’t come across, I don’t think,” he said. “I never really loved my job until becoming a police officer.”
The Prince William County Police Department advertised to hire a new officer, which piqued Afzal’s interest. After all, law enforcement is familiar to him.
He didn’t get the job, but it led to the start of his experience in law enforcement.
Afzal’s first career jobs was with the U.S. Capitol Police in 1991. In 1993, he joined Arlington County Police Department, where he worked his way to captain until becoming chief of police for the Durango Police Department in April.
In Arlington, Afzal oversaw community policing and all school-resource officers reported to him – experience that was influential in being selected to lead the Durango Police Department.
Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc selected Afzal for the job out of a pool of five finalists.
LeBlanc said Afzal is a good fit and has several qualities that are “exemplary and needed for the department.”
Afzal’s intelligence, strong work ethic and dry sense of humor, are among them, he said.
“The police chief is the leader of one of the biggest law enforcement agencies in the Four Corners area, and Kamran educates the officers in the department,” LeBlanc said. “The community has needed someone who is more community-oriented.”
LeBlanc said Afzal has done a “tremendous job” so far, as evident by the wait-list of people interested in joining the police force.
“We are fully staffed, and in my 10 years here, that has only happened for a couple days,” he said. “It is an exciting time to be a police officer for the Durango Police Department. We are getting better at community needs, particularly with panhandling and the homeless situation.”
As the chief of police, Afzal commands a team of 54 officers. He said his main goal is to do his part to “move the needle forward.”
“We are here to serve our community,” he said. “If I can do a little better than yesterday, I am making a difference in some capacity.”
Afzal makes community outreach a big part of his duty as the chief of police.
He said it is important for residents to understand that nothing is “too small” for the police.
“Don’t ever think that cops have something better to do,” he said. “Even if I had 200 cops, I would never have enough cops for every street corner 24 hours a day.”
He encourages people to call the police if they feel it is necessary. He said generally, most encounters fall flat, but that is OK.
“Just because you call doesn’t mean we will put the handcuffs on someone,” he said. “If you hear something, call us and we will check into it. Nothing is ever too trivial for us.”
Afzal said there are similar issues that Arlington and Durango deal with, notably homelessness and public demonstrations.
He said theft is one of the most frequent crimes committed in Durango.
“There are a lot of shoplifting incidents,” he said. “And also a lot of bicycle thefts.”
Afzal plans to use crime analysis and statistics to determine how to deploy Durango’s limited police resources.
The department is looking to hire a crime analyst in January, whose job will be to look for unusual or otherwise noteworthy patterns and trends in crimes, which can help lead to arrests.
Additionally, Afzal made it a priority to increase police presence downtown, particularly along Main Avenue.
“There was a desire for us to be there (downtown),” he said. “As people who wear uniforms, we are the most visible part of the city government. We are the first ones somebody calls, and we have to be sympathetic and empathetic toward people.”
He said perception is reality for people when it comes to the homelessness problem.
“The homeless are out on their luck, and transience is not against the law,” he said. “A lot of the homeless are from Durango; they are part of this community and aren’t going anywhere.”
He tries to direct them to the appropriate resources.
“I am looking at behavior,” he said. “If someone is aggressively panhandling, we can do something, but we want to direct people in need in the right direction.”
And while shootings, robberies and car chases are what is depicted on crime dramas, it is not often the reality for most police officers.
Afzal said it’s important for people considering the profession to understand police work is not like what is seen on television.
It was a lesson he, too, had to learn as a new police officer.
“Crime happens, but not everyone is a victim of crime every day,” he said. “Robberies and the burglaries do not affect people on a daily basis.”
He recalled a time in 1995 when he recovered a stolen car and handguns, and arrested a wanted criminal. At the next community meeting, all people could talk about was cars speeding in the neighborhood, rats in the creek and abandoned shopping carts.
“That was a great lesson that what affects people daily is what they care about,” he said. “You can’t lose your focus concentrating on just one thing. Some of the stuff is just nuisances.”