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On Jan. 1, 2013, Vienna Police Chief Robert Carlisle, 56, will be retiring after 12 years in that position, ending a nearly 35-year career in law enforcement that began as a Fairfax County patrolman in 1978.

Originally from Rockville, Md., Carlisle said he knew nothing about Fairfax County when he first applied to become a policeman at the Fairfax County Police Department at age 21.

“I didn’t even know how to get here,” he said. “I had to get a map. I had originally intended to apply in Montgomery County but they were going through some federal litigation having to do with minority recruiting and there was about a two-year wait, so I applied with the Fairfax County Police instead.”

Initially assigned to the McLean district station, Carlisle said that part of his first beat was Tysons Corner.

“In the late 1970s it was nothing like it is today,” he said. “The mall was a third of the size it is today and there wasn’t the development around it that is there today. Where Tysons II is now, was then known as the ‘gravel pits;’ it was just a huge gravel lot with overgrown weeds and trees. We would often find stolen cars back there that had been abandoned.”

Carlisle says the landscape wasn’t the only difference between then and now.

“The difference in technology is probably the most significant change,” he said.

“Back then we had a four-channel radio to cover the whole county and there weren’t enough hand-held radios — which we called ‘bricks’ because of their size — for everyone, so we had external speakers on our cruisers that broadcasted so we could hear the radio when left the car. Today, not having a handheld radio would be akin to not having a gun, but back then that’s just how we rolled.”

Carlisle eventually worked his way up the law enforcement ladder within FCPD, retiring in 1999 as commander of the Criminal Investigations Bureau.

He then accepted an assistant chief position with the Falls Church Police Department, where he remained until 2001.

“Making that transition was pretty different,” he said. “I went from an organization of about 1,000 sworn officers to one with 32, but I enjoyed the personal interaction of getting to know all the officers and their families and becoming more involved with the community.”

After two years in Falls Church, Carlisle took over as chief of police in Vienna, where he remains today.

“When I came to Vienna in the beginning of 2001, the police department needed some work,” he said. “The previous chief had just left and about a quarter of the department was vacant. Morale was very low and officers were moving to other departments. I began meeting with every employee individually and began implementing changes, taking notice of their work, increasing their training and raising their pay.”

Carlisle said the first budget proposal that he presented to the Vienna Town Council was met with very wide eyes, but that they remained supportive.

“There was some sticker shock,” he said. “But we had some serious technology and communications needs. All the squad cars were old, there were no laptops, we had an antiquated communications system and we had to go from a 100 percent paper system to a 100 percent electronic system, which we did in just three years.”

According to Carlisle, Vienna is in a unique spot geographically; next to Tysons Corner with I-66 on the other side of town, but with plenty of wooded area and wildlife.

“We are a stone’s throw from Tysons but we see foxes and lots of other wildlife here,” he said.

In terms of human traffic, the Vienna road system is not equipped for the rapid surrounding expansion, he said.

“It was created for a small town and now has to handle a lot more.”

Carlisle thinks the expanded Metro stations in Tysons Corner will only add to that.

“Tysons will become an edge city and even more traffic will flow into Vienna,” he said. “Daytime traffic will become even more challenging.”

Beginning next year, Carlisle will leave policing after 35 years to become vice president of security for Navy Federal Credit Union.

In his new position, he will oversee all security aspects for what he says is the largest credit union in the world.

“I like new challenges and learning,” he said. “With $50 billion in assets, 200 locations and four million members, I think the credit union will keep me busy.”

Carlisle will be missed by his Vienna colleagues and co-workers.

“Chief Carlisle has given many years of dedicated service to the town of Vienna, and in that time has transformed the way the police department does business,” said Town Manager Mercury Payton. “He has been an integral part of the town’s leadership team and has provided invaluable guidance not only in the field of public safety, but also in town budgeting practices, emergency management efforts and in the selection of key department head positions.”

According to Carlisle, a search for a new chief will take place, but he hopes his deputy chief, Captain Mike Miller, applies.

“As chief, Bob has provided great leadership not only to the department, but to the town as a whole,” Miller said. “I have had the privilege to serve as his deputy chief for the last ten years and not only has he been a tremendous mentor to myself and to others in the department, he has been a great friend.”

Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman recalls her interactions with Carlisle fondly.

“Chief Carlisle will be missed by all of us in town hall,” she said. “I will miss his willingness to handle any situation that would come up. … He leaves behind a great staff of police officers who will carry on the high standards he set for them. His new job presents an opportunity for him and I wish him well.”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com