Shaking hands with officers, joking with dispatch personnel about how photogenic he is, and making general small talk with others about the suffocating effect of central Piedmont pollen, Police Chief Damon Williams seemed well within his element strutting through the halls of the Mooresville Police Department headquarters on a recent Thursday morning.
He carried the aura of a longtime department veteran, but he was only a couple hours in to his fourth day on the job.
Williams, a former Tarboro police chief, started his position on April 4. The impression Williams gives is that he is every bit the communicator and relationship builder that Town Manager Erskine Smith says he was looking for when he hired him to replace former Chief Carl Robbins, who retired Dec. 1.
Williams has been a police chief for 10 years, a prodigal length of time considering he just turned 37 years old. He says he’s looking forward to making Mooresville a permanent home with his wife and their three elementary school-age children.
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“I was looking for a town that was making progress and moving forward and one that didn’t mind making progressive changes,” said Williams. “Once I spoke with (Erskine) Smith and some of the command staff I knew Mooresville was that place.”
In addition to Williams’ people skills, Smith says he was interested in hiring a progressive leader.
“We wanted someone who was creative, open to change, open to new models and keeping up with trends, someone who could focus on the key issues.”
Williams is well-traveled. He says his family lived in Baltimore, Maryland, where he says he “hated what I saw in police officers” until they moved to Hoke County, when he was in middle school.
A graduate of Sandhills Community College (associates degree), Fayetteville State (bachelor’s), and Columbia Southern (master’s), Williams worked with the Moore County school district before entering law enforcement. He was hired as Taylortown’s police chief 10 years ago when he was 27 years old.
As Tarboro’s chief from 2012-16, Williams says he is most proud of his department’s Police Activities League program, which he says helped build trust between the community’s youth and the police force. It was part of the city’s community policing program, which Williams hopes to build on in Mooresville.
The Mooresville Police Department recently initiated the MPACT (Mooresville Police and Community Together) program, its community-based policing program. Williams’ interpretation of community policing is “working with community partners: schools, youth groups” and other resources.
As a member of the Mooresville Graded School District Board of Education, Leon Pridgen is especially interested in the impact a police chief can have on young people in the community. As an African-American man, and treasurer of the South Iredell chapter of the NAACP, Pridgen feels Williams can have an even greater impact as Mooresville’s first African-American police chief.
“(Williams’ hiring) is a bigger statement because what do young people in this community have to look to when they look for role models and figures?” said Pridgen, who lives off of East Iredell Avenue. “For a long period of time, kids from diverse backgrounds, low socioeconomic backgrounds, didn’t have a lot they could look to.”
Williams says he also supports problem-oriented policing, which focuses on assigning attention to the town’s most problematic geographic areas, and a service excellence model, which is paying attention to the smallest details of policing.
Mooresville is in a period of population growth and decreasing violent crime. According to statistics compiled by Mooresville Police crime analyst Dan Miglin, Mooresville’s population is slightly more than 37,700 people, an increase of more than 2,400 since 2015, but its violent crimes (homicide/manslaughter, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault) are down 12.5 percent since the end of 2015.
However, property crimes (arson, auto theft, burglaries, etc.) and other crimes (simple assaults, traffic charges, drug-related charges, etc.) have increased 6.8 percent and 15.2 percent, respectively, since the last quarter of 2015.
“I’m a very open and transparent type of leader,” said Williams, who will be leading a department that includes 100-plus staff. “I’m very involved in what’s going on in the community. I like to have a finger on the pulse of the community so I know where our resources can be focused. When people see me out, they’re going to see me at our schools, at our businesses, communicating with people directly.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.