UPDATED 1/24: This story was updated to include Asst. Chief Gomez’s responses.
After a nationwide search for Winston-Salem’s next police chief that began after former Chief Catrina Thompson announced her retirement last July, the hunt for her replacement is finally coming to a close.
An announcement made by the city on Jan. 20 stated that the list of applicants for the position has been whittled down to four finalists. In the running are three of the WSPD’s own: Assistant Police Chief Wilson S. Weaver II, Assistant Police Chief Jose “Manny” Gomez and Assistant Police Chief William Penn, Jr. The fourth contender, Police Chief Scott C. Booth, hails from the Danville Police Department in Virginia.
Chief Thompson retired on Dec. 31 after helming the WSPD since 2017, with Michael Cardwell guiding the force in her stead as interim chief since Jan. 1. Thompson currently serves as a US marshall for the Middle District of North Carolina and was selected for the role by President Biden last August.
The city announced earlier this month that they would be hosting two public forums inviting citizens to express their thoughts on who should head the department next.
The comments, thoughts and suggestions provided by citizens at the first public forum held on Jan. 19 will be compiled into interview questions for the candidates. Citizens are invited to meet the four candidates at the Police Chief Candidates Forum on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Salem Lake Marina at 815 Salem Lake Road.
A decision is expected before the end of the month.
What the people want
Community members poured into St. John CME Church to make their voices heard during last week’s meeting. Council member and Chair of the Public Safety Committee James Taylor, Jr. was in attendance, along with Mayor Pro Tem Denise D. Adams and East Ward representative Annette Scippio. City Manager Lee Garrity was also present.
In an address to the crowd, Interim Chief Cardwell requested the public’s feedback on how the police department is doing.
“Telling it to us straight helps us get the job done,” he said.
Following Cardwell’s speech, Assistant City Manager Patrice Toney invited Bishop Sir Walter L. Mack to say a few words to the community.
Mack said that Winston-Salem needs a police chief who would “come with some strategies.”
“See something, say something is not a strategy, because you’re putting the responsibility on the people who are already traumatized,” he said.
Noting the slew of shootings that have taken place in recent weeks, Mack said that the next police chief will have to deal with the issues that the violence is causing to communities.
“All of this that’s happening today, it’s about trauma,” he said. “It’s about people who are hurting.”
As for the person chosen for the role of police chief, Mack said that “a flute won’t suffice where a trumpet is expected.”
Attendees lined up to share their thoughts, many listing characteristics that they would like to see in the new police chief. Honesty, integrity and transparency were prevalent among them.
Rev. Tembila Covington of Exodus United Baptist Church said she hopes that the new chief will invest in the community.
“The color of hope is now green,” Covington said, requesting that the police chief offer more support than “just showing up with a whole bunch of fanfare [and] community days.”
Vivian Perez Chandler said she wants the next chief to engage with Winston-Salem’s immigrant community.
“There’s a lot of trauma for our immigrant community…. The relationships that we have with police officers are not the same,” she said. “We come from a background of [corrupt] police officers where there is no safety. We do not trust police. That’s part of the cultural competencies that I think are very important… for the chief of police to bring to the department.”
Rev. John Dillard III of St. John CME Church also recommended that “any police chief that has to address problems in the inner city really needs to be a police chief that has familiarity with the issues that are unique to an inner city.”
In an interview with TCB, Dr. Pam Peoples-Joyner said that the most important qualities she’s looking for are “the three C’s: communication, commitment, and collaboration.”
As for Sandra Brown, she said she wants a chief who will understand the people they’re serving: “Someone that’s going to help instead of hinder.”
Who are the final candidates?
Assistant Police Chief Wilson Weaver started his law enforcement career with the WSPD in 1984. A native of Winston-Salem, Weaver currently heads the Field Services Bureau and his professional specialty is centered around the patrol division as well as the special operations division, which contains a number of specialized units such as the SWAT team, bomb squad and K9 unit.
Weaver said that his professional specialty is “the response to, mitigation of and recovery from all hazards.” He says being out in the community is one of the things that he has done for the vast majority of his career by choice.
“I embody all of the concepts of community-oriented policing,” Weaver said. “I have worked in all areas of our city…. Especially while I’ve been Assistant Police Chief, I’ve had a number of meetings with communities all over our city and I’ve gotten to know the residents of those communities.” Weaver said that he’s adept at working closely with communities to discover long-term solutions to crime-related problems.
A recipient of the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association Trilogy Award, Weaver says that he tells younger WSPD officers that they really don’t know how good they are until they train with law enforcement professionals from agencies across the country.
“I’ve done that; I know that I’m well-trained [and] well-educated,” Weaver said, expressing that he still has a desire to serve the community through his profession.
“I’d like to continue doing that as chief of police.”
Assistant Police Chief Jose Gomez has served with the WSPD since 1999 and currently commands the Criminal Intelligence Bureau, which includes the Special Investigations Division, the Firearms Investigation and Intelligence Division, and the Real Time Crime Center. He has served in the Field Services Bureau and the Special Operations Division, as well as with the street crimes unit and the SWAT Team.
In an interview with TCB, Gomez said that he’s fortunate to have served in many different roles during his time as a patrol officer and SWAT operator. Gomez said that he was in college when he was hired by the WSPD, adding that he was a beneficiary of the Police Cadet Program.
“And 24 years later, here you have me,” he said. “For me, it’s pretty exciting to be hired as a police cadet…and here I am now applying for the chief of police position. So I’ve been blessed that I’ve been afforded those opportunities here at the department.”
Gomez said his time on the force has helped him see the different needs across the city.
“I see what the needs are and I know that each community that we serve is a little bit different than the other,” he said. “The west side of Winston-Salem has different needs than the east side. At the end of the day we can’t solve the criminal problems going on in Winston-Salem, specifically violent crime, without us having collaboration from many fronts.”
As far as his working style, Gomez emphasized the importance of procedural justice.
“All procedural justice is to me is treating each other with respect and dignity,” he said.
If he encounters someone out in the field, he wants to treat them the way he would treat his mother, “regardless of the situation that person finds themselves in.”
“They could be a victim of a crime, they could be a suspect of a crime,” Gomez said. “As long as we treat each other with respect and dignity, I feel like we can overcome pretty much anything.”
When it comes to community, Gomez feels like he has an edge.
“I’m bilingual, I’m able to speak Spanish,” he said. “It’s my first language…. I’m able to communicate to that Spanish-speaking audience in a way that no other leader has, at least in my time here at the police department. I think that community will find comfort in that, and it’s long been needed I believe.”
Assistant Police Chief William Penn has served with the WSPD since 1997 and currently leads the Investigative Services Bureau. He has worked with the foot patrol, vice and narcotics, and crime prevention divisions, and has also served as District 1 commander and support services commander.
In an email to TCB, Penn said he grew up on the east side of Winston-Salem and has worked in every district of the city as a police officer. Penn said that he is service-oriented and believes in “truly knowing the community” that he serves.
“My community activities have allowed me to create impactful partnerships that allow me to seek opportunities to help everyone in our community,” he said.
Penn wants to be the next police chief because he believes that he can be an “agent for positive change within this agency and this city.”
“My professional experience, education and community relationships have prepared me for this position,” he said.
Penn says that he truly believes in the power of collaboration and that “those meaningful partnerships that will lead us to position the department for success, adding that he places a heavy emphasis on relationship building. Penn says he believes in the nobility of law enforcement, “especially the men and women of the Winston Salem Police Department.”
Police Chief Scott Booth has headed the Danville Police Department since 2018. Prior to his career in law enforcement that began in 1996 with the Richmond Police Department, Booth served in the US Army as a sergeant in a combat infantry platoon and a military police squad stationed in the United States, Germany, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Additionally, his service during Operation Desert Storm earned him the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. His leadership experience as a police chief also includes his career with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in Washington, DC.
“I’ve always been a very collaborative leader,” Booth said in an interview. “That would be my vision for Winston-Salem, a true community policing model where the community and the police are working daily together to collaborate and problem-solve. That’s what I believe in, that’s what’s worked for me.”
Booth added that he wants to be WSPD’s new police chief because it’s a diverse city with more opportunities and challenges.
“I think it’s got a really solid police department,” he said.
“I see the greatness that’s already there and how I could really take it to the next level.”
Citizens are invited to meet the four candidates at the Police Chief Candidates Forum on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Salem Lake Marina at 815 Salem Lake Road.
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