Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams to retire

08/14/2014 10:48 AM

08/14/2014 4:31 PM

Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams announced his retirement Thursday, calling an end to his 39-year career in law enforcement.

"It’s been a great journey, it's been a great opportunity," Williams said.

Williams, who was named chief on April 14, 2000, said he had been pondering retirement for the last year.

"At the end of the day, I'm tired," he said. "I'm tired, but I'm leaving with joy in my heart and peace in my mind."

Williams' last official day will be Sept. 5. Deputy Chief John Speer confirmed he will serve as acting chief while Williams departs on a scheduled vacation.

When asked what he plans to do next, Williams said "the first thing I’m going to do is just relax."

He won't miss those 3 a.m. phone calls alerting him to police chases or homicides, he said.

Williams, 61, announced his decision to retire to his command staff at a 9 a.m. meeting. Among those on hand to hear the chief's announcement was Mayor Carl Brewer, who gave his friend of 40 years a hug.

"I certainly didn’t think I’d ever see this day where I’d be congratulating the chief on his retirement," Brewer said.

Deputy Chief Nelson Mosley lauded Williams for his leadership in the department's solving of the BTK homicides after Dennis Rader resurfaced in March of 2004 and the first federal racketeering investigation in state history targeting the Neighborhood Crips gang.

Williams did not address speculation that he plans to run for mayor. Nor did he respond to questions about whether his retirement was spurred in part by pressure from local groups unhappy over numerous recent deadly officer-involved shootings and persistent evidence of racial profiling by officers.

Bonita Gooch, who had called for Williams to step down in recent columns in the Community Voice, said frustration with the chief was growing in Wichita’s African-American community.

“I’ve been waiting to see some changes, and it didn’t look like they were coming,” Gooch said.

In a recent column, Gooch wrote “I think it’s time for change and the change I’m talking about is at the top. No, not the mayor; the top of the Wichtia Police Department. The buck stops where – with Police Chief Norman Williams.

“But we’re at fault, too. We’ve let him get away with it for far too many years.”

Mike Shatz, editor of the online publication Kansas Exposed, said his greatest frustration with the outgoing chief was “his failure to address the (alleged police) misconduct in a transparent way...”

Shatz said he’ll be watching closely to see who Williams’ successor will be.

“Is the next chief going to enact change that brings transparency and accountability to the department?” he asked.

During Williams’ tenure as chief, the department received national recognition for its investigative work and community policing philosophy, which relies on connecting with residents and public servants to enhance safety, crime prevention and the solving of crime.

He was wounded twice in the line of duty — in 1977 and 1980 — and still carries three bullets lodged in his body from those incidents.

City Manager Robert Layton said more information regarding an interim chief and successor will be released later.

The police chief manages a department with a budget of nearly $80 million and supervises about 840 employees. The Wichita Police Department is the largest police department in Kansas and serves a population base of more than 382,000 people.

Djuan Wash, communications director for Sunflower Community Action, said Williams’ retirement doesn’t automatically mean significant changes are coming.

“We look forward to having a conversation with the community and with Robert Layton in terms of what’s next,” Wash said. “Even though he (Williams) is gone, that doesn’t mean policy change.”

Numerous officer-involved shootings – including eight armed confrontations over a nine-month period spanning late 2011 and much of 2012, in which five people were killed and nine were injured – have damaged the community’s relationship with the police, he said.

“The officer-involved shootings and the responses are a concern to us,” Wash said.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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