Winston-Salem police chief continues wellness journey, invites others to join her with Winston-Salem Chief’s Challenge

Piedmont Triad News

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — June 14, 2021, was a Monday. It was also one of the most stressful days Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson – and the officers below her – have ever experienced on the job.

“Officers saying basically, shots were fired,” Thompson said. “I knew we had employees inside because I knew the time.”

At 3:34 p.m., officers say a man identified as 26-year-old William Scott started firing a high-powered semi-automatic rifle into the department’s District 1 Substation on North Point Boulevard.

“It seemed like it took forever, but it’s going really fast and the next thing I know I have officers who are in a chase. I’m hearing that they’re taking fire,” Thompson detailed.

Officers say Scott led them on a pursuit which lasted about four miles, to Northwest Boulevard, before Scott stopped near the Reynolds High School gymnasium, which is adjacent to Wiley Middle School, and continued to fire at officers.

“I’m also worried about, there are citizens out there who don’t have a clue what’s going on,” Thompson added.

Investigators say Scott then ran into Hanes Park, an area regularly saturated with children and families, while continuing to fire at them. Officers fired shots in return, hitting Scott, before immediately rendering aid and arresting him.

“They challenged someone, chased someone who was shooting at them,” Thompson said.

Officers and deputies say they later found Scott’s mother and grandmother dead in their homes. He is now charged with murder in connection to their deaths.

Three days later, FOX8 sat down with Thompson, continuing to shadow her on her journey to wellness. When asked when she was able to destress, Thompson laughed and said, “I’m not there yet.”

Thompson said much of her ability to deal with incidents such as what happened on the 14th comes from making sure her employees are also adequately dealing with them.

“The most amazing thing to me is that they came back the next day, ready to do it all over again,” she said. “One of my civilian employees, who we had contacted and actually told them they didn’t need to come in the next day, when I got in and I saw her there, I went over and I was talking to her, I was like, ‘what are you doing here?’ And her reply to me was, ‘Chief, it’s going to take a whole lot more than bullets to keep me from coming back to work.’”

That said, incidents of violence handled by her department also magnify the need for mental health needing to be addressed within the department, the community, and the chief says, herself.

In the days following the shooting and murders allegedly involving Scott, FOX8 featured a program within the department, detailing a program with an emphasis on officers’ wellness.

It’s an idea that’s not new, having been tried unsuccessfully before, but Thompson says it’s been reworked and is being reintroduced, with more of a carrot rather than stick approach.

“It’s taken some time to get to this point, but we’re super excited,” she said.

While a team has been assembled to work on the interdepartmental program, Thompson has been putting together a team for her own wellness journey.

“With her schedule, it’s very difficult to have a routine,” said Tiffiny Fambro, a life coach who also happens to be Thompson’s sister. “I mean, ideally, waking up in the morning, going for a walk, meditating, journaling, those are all the things we’d like to see in a complete wellness program.”

Fambro said much of a journey like the one her sister is embarking on consists of doing a lot of little things, which add up to big changes.

“She’s a busy woman, a lot of women are busy, they have careers, they have children, so we have to find little bits of time throughout her day where she can just do something small. Even starting with deep breathing,” Fambro said. “The low-hanging fruit is the fitness part. Of course, nutrition plays such a big part of that. I always tell people, ‘if you can get your eating right, the fitness part will take care of itself.’”

Margaret Pike is the other current member of Thompson’s wellness team, taking on the role of strategist. The two worked on a nonprofit board together, having both chaired.

“I can tell you, she is as caring a person as you’ll ever meet, but she’s tough. You know? She’s tough,” Pike said. “I never wanted to allow us to let a portrayal of our chief to be weak in any way. She’s certainly vulnerable. She is a human, she’s got children and that’s anybody’s Achilles heel.”

As the trio discussed possible routes for Thompson’s journey, they quickly realized they needed more help from experts in the community.

“How can we find strategic partnerships in this community,” Pike explained.

However, brainstorming also led them to a larger idea; while they needed help from the community, perhaps members of the community would be looking to embark on a similar journey to Thompson’s.

“People are starting to say, ‘hey, I saw this,’ or, ‘hey, I’m going through that too,’” Fambro detailed.

They also recognized that not all members of the community have the same resources available to Thompson.

“There were a lot of other ways that we were thinking how the community might not have access to something that the chief would have, and it could be in the form of, ‘well that’s great if you want to eat vegetables, but I live in a food desert,’” Pike added. “There are a lot of different resources that we have in this community that can help everyone on the same kind of journey.”

As Thompson’s wellness journey continues to take shape, they’re opening the discussion up to anyone and everyone, having created the Winston-Salem Chief’s Challenge.

“She’s a leader, and leadership means that, ‘I’m going to be the one who’s going to be the person to take the first step,’” Pike said.

It’s their hope, that if more people accompany Thompson on her journey, the community will not only be happier, but safer.

“That all ties into this idea of, how are we as a community are going to decrease violence and decrease some of these episodes that we see out here, is reaching out to people and saying, ‘are you OK,’” Fambro said.

To get involved, click here.

“I definitely feel better than I did three months ago, I can move just a little bit faster, and have just a little more energy,” Thompson said. “But I know I still have so much farther to go, and with the team that I have here, I know I’ll get there.”

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