Ontario: New Police Chief Derek Williams
By Dianne Anderson
Derek Williams is unapologetically chief.
It’s not the worst job in the world, but even as his heart was set on joining the police force after he served in the military, his inner family circle heavily advised against it.
Getting into police work is not without its challenges, but probably none so great as recruiting young men and women of color, who often run from – not to – police careers.
He gets it.
“When I started, my family did not want me to get into law enforcement. There’s a negative stigma,” he said. “It got to the point that I decided I want to do this. It seemed very rewarding.”
Any number of issues could keep young men and women of color from seeking careers on the force. Family role models are few and far between. Historic racial bias may cloud the perception of the profession. The testing is also rigorous, and the hiring process is intense.
Good physical agility, a written aptitude test, and the police interview are required. Job seekers, carrying the baggage of their youth, might need some time and distance from an incident on the application. They also must be open and honest on paper, and explain what they’ve learned from their mistakes.
“They want to go through your life with a fine tooth comb,” Chief Williams said, adding, “And, you’ve got to be able to go home to your friends and family and say yes I’m a cop, and defend why you do it.”
Good community policing is effective. He often goes to parks, talks with kids and teens so they can see beyond popular misconceptions, try to show another side to the work. He is also aware of how youth can be too quickly pushed into the system.
“I’ve been pulled over. If I come across a 17-year-old that’s out past curfew, so to speak, one way is to cite the kid and put them in the system. The other way is to call the parent, ‘Do you know where your kid is?”
These days, African American hires are much better than when he first joined, there were only four or five other officers. Now, he said about 20 African Americans are on the force.
After serving in the military, Williams’ first started with the department 27 years ago hoping to drive a black and white, but he found other opportunities ahead. SWAT is always a coveted job, usually for those in the best shape, sharp thinkers, and sharpshooters.
He was on that team for seven years, first starting on the perimeter, the entry team, and then with a shotgun. For seven years, he worked calculations as a munitions expert grenadier.
He said policing is a tough job. It requires officers to think fast, often from anonymous calls and with limited information, but officers have a duty to act. He knows there is a potential to get jaded over time, but he feels that’s human nature in the profession.
“We see the worst in everything. You see children that are true victims, molested at an early age,” he said. “Kids are innocent.”
Officers must make split decisions, but most of the time, things do not go wrong. He said that most officers enter the field with a level of altruism, wanting to make a positive impact on society.
“As cops, you go down the checklist in your brain of what you’re supposed to do. You have to be prepared for the worst, but you’re always hoping for the best,” he said.
Williams was sworn in as chief earlier this month, and his list of daily duties just got a lot longer. Everyone is looking to him to lead. He is frequently called to interact with politicians, and attend endless meetings. He is also the ambassador for the police department, which is a big part of his calendar.
People always want to talk to the chief, and he’s open to that.
“I’ve got to keep the community safe, I have to create an environment where the employees are happy and they want to come to work. It’s a 24/7 seven day a week operation. I’m flattered to be sitting in this chair,” he said.