WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After a unanimous vote by City Council, Asst. Chief Donny Williams will become interim chief of the Wilmington Police Department on February 1.
In a sit-down interview with WECT Wednesday, Williams shared his thoughts on some of the city’s biggest issues and his transition into the top cop role.
As he sees it, Williams says the city faces four main challenges:
“We have a substance abuse issue and when I say substance abuse -- you have alcohol abuse, you have cocaine, you have opioids, you have methamphetamines -- we have a substance abuse issue and people are dying. We’ve go to work with other partners with our citizens to reduce the number of deaths,” he said.
“In some cases our officers have been able to get there in time and intervene. One of the things we’re pushing this year to train our people on is to avoid the suicide by cop," he said. "We don’t want to be anyone’s instrument for them taking their own lives. So, our officers are going to do more de-escalation training.”
“We lose more citizens in traffic crashes than we do by gunfire. So, we are wanting to look at traffic crash reduction strategies. We want to work with the state, we want to work with other local partners to reduce that,” he said.
Gun and Gang Violence
“That is a big issue and right now, our staff is working on a plan where we will look at putting long term efforts in place and this plan will not just be the police department," he said. "I think we should facilitate the plan but this plan needs to be owned by the community.”
Williams’ career thus far has focused largely on community policing, a strategy he said was first implemented in the early 1990s, when he became the first officer formally trained in it.
“In addition to that, I became certified in community policing by the state of North Carolina in 2001," he said. "So for most of my career, all I know is community policing so it won’t be a big change for me as far as the community policing aspect of it.”
Community engagement is another area Williams hopes to expand on.
“It can be as simple as a patrol officer riding down the street and stopping and talking with a citizen, a patrol officer sitting on a porch," Williams said. "It can be your PAL (police activities league programs), other youth activities, in our case our Santa Cop program, our Cop Camp program, our Port City Super Girls Community Watch, demo days, citizens police academies and the list can go on and on and on.”
Williams also wants to make himself and the upper command staff more accessible to the community with some kind of regularly scheduled event.
“We want to be accessible to the citizens and we haven’t quite figured out how we’re going to do it -- the most efficient and effective ways to do it -- because we still have to run the police department but I want citizens to have access to me, the deputy chiefs and the captains,” he said. “One thing that’s very important to me is running the police department not just based on crime data and traffic crash data and clearance rates, that we get that qualitative data, that we engage our citizens and we know what their concerns are.”
Williams has served with the Wilmington Police Department for 27 years. He’s worked alongside Chief Ralph Evangelous for the duration of Evangelous’ tenure as chief and Williams says Evangelous paved the road as a coach and mentor and leaves him in a position for a smooth transition.
It will be up to Wilmington City Council whether to hire Williams for the job permanently.