Loudoun County resident David Huchler was contentedly serving his 26th year with the Alexandria Police Department when opportunity knocked in 2017. Scott Booth, police chief for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, stepped down, and MWAA needed to fill the position.
MWAA’s management found what it was looking for in Huchler, who started in April 2018. As MWAA police chief, Huchler leads a force of 233 sworn officers, 30 traffic control officers, and 11 civilian administrative personnel, who protect both Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports.
It’s a daunting task; more than 40 million people pass through these airports annually. MWAA’s jurisdiction crosses three counties — Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun — and includes the Dulles Toll Road and Airport Access Highway.
Earning the Badge
As a teen, Huchler came to Northern Virginia for soccer tournaments and liked the area so much that he decided to go to George Mason University, graduating with a degree in law enforcement. Soon after, the City of Alexandria hired him, and he completed his police academy training in 1992. Huchler later earned his master’s in public administration at GMU, where he now teaches criminal justice courses.
“I started my career in Alexandria as a patrol officer and retired as the city’s deputy chief of police, and I have nothing but good things to say about my years there,” says Huchler, who also served as a detective, Special Weapons and Tactics SWAT commander, and briefly as acting police chief before retiring.
“One experience that really rounded out my career was being a captain in administrative services because that’s where I got an inside look into the administration and management of a police department,” he says. “My experience, combined with my anti-terrorism training and SWAT service, put me in a unique position to benefit MWAA in its mission of policing and security.
“That’s the difference at MWAA,” he adds. “Our mission requires the daily protection of critical infrastructure while ensuring the safety of millions of people, including members of Congress, foreign dignitaries, and even presidents, who pass through our airports every year.” That protection requires collaboration with local, state, and federal partners.
“Chief Huchler brings a practical sense of policing to the Airports Authority,” says Bryan Norwood, MWAA’s vice president for public safety, who was among those to interview Huchler for his position.
“He leads from the front and supports 21st-century policing in terms of our four pillars of procedural justice [transparency, fairness, impartiality, and voice]. Under his watch, we’ve promoted dozens of officers from the rank of corporal to sergeant to lieutenant to major, and that’s no small thing,” he adds.
“I don’t know if there’s any more important job that a chief does than hiring and promoting,” says Huchler. “Because that’s what positions the department for future success.”
Airport Policing Is Different
Airport policing has diverse responsibilities. “We enforce not only MWAA and FAA regulations, but also the county codes of Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun and the laws of the commonwealth of Virginia,” Huchler says.
“We are police officers first, but we have that parallel mission of security. The security apparatus at an airport is complex and involves a large network of technology and people, including federal agencies and personnel.”
Huchler could not reveal confidential information about airport security technology. “Just know that from the moment a person arrives at the door until the second they board the aircraft, there are programs, policies, and technologies in place to prevent every kind of threat to airport safety,” he says.
MWAA officers interact with the public from the moment people arrive by car or get off Metro’s new Silver Line stop at Dulles.
Huchler says traffic control officers, who are among his force’s civilian members, often go unrecognized but are usually the first ones people see at the airport. He says they are like airport ambassadors.
“These officers have law enforcement abilities and are authorized to write tickets, but they do more than control traffic. Working in an incredibly busy environment, in all kinds of weather, they are also tasked with constantly assessing and reporting suspicious or unusual movement. It’s challenging to remain vigilantly focused on those duties while also kindly offering directions and information to the multitudes who stop to ask them questions.”
In addition to their regular duties, MWAA officers regularly assist with high-security regional events, such as presidential inaugurations. Huchler’s force helped restore order at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021; supported the large-scale repatriation flights from Afghanistan at Dulles in 2021; and participated in wreath ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The department regularly supports Special Olympics Virginia at MWAA’s annual Plane Pull event, honors veterans and fallen officers at remembrance ceremonies, and engages with citizens through festivals, schools, scout troops, and various other community venues.
Staying on the leading edge of technology and community policing have been priorities for Huchler since he arrived at MWAA.
“In the last two years, we implemented a new computer-aided dispatch [CAD] and record management system,” he says. “This builds a foundation for us to bring in other technologies that can interface with that platform to enhance our security posture and make our officers more effective. A big piece of that was being able to get our CAD on our smartphones so our officers on foot and on bikes have access to the same tools as officers with a mobile data terminal in a car.”
MWAA Police Lt. Sundi Harris, who has been with the agency for 15 years, says introducing that technology has made a tremendous difference.
“Chief Huchler brought fresh air to this department,” she says. “One of the first things he did was provide much-needed software that helped us manage internal investigations. He understands that to be current, we must be leaders in technology.”
Harris says Huchler is big on education. “I ate lunch with several colleagues yesterday and realized that more than half of us are taking college classes. That’s the influence he’s had on this department — inspiring us to further our careers.”
“We offer numerous career paths for those who join our department,” says Huchler. “We have one of the region’s larger explosive detection K-9 units and a well-equipped SWAT team. Our motorcycle and bicycle patrols are highly visible and allow great flexibility responding to calls.” Special Operations Command opportunities include Investigations, Special Response Team, and Honor Guard service.
But one of Huchler’s biggest challenges is recruitment. Area police agencies are vying for the same decreasing pool of applicants.
“There’s a misconception that you have to be perfect or have law enforcement education to apply,” he says. “We look for people who have a sincere desire for service. If you want a career that allows you to do something larger than yourself, consider law enforcement that opportunity.”
When off duty, Huchler enjoys time with his family in Loudoun County, where he has lived since 2002. He and his wife, Jackie, met in Alexandria when he worked as a community police officer at the elementary school where she taught. They have three children.
“My wife and I love to shop at all the town centers, and we enjoy checking out the restaurants listed in Northern Virginia Magazine’s top 10,” he says, grinning. “Northern Virginia is an exceptional area to live. There’s never enough time to experience everything it offers.”
Feature photo courtesy MWAA
This story originally ran in our April issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.