Winston-Salem police chief reflects on 2021, ongoing wellness journey

Piedmont Triad News

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson has led her officers, civilian employees and the citizens of Winston-Salem through a challenging year, all while continuing the wellness journey she embarked on in response to her experiences in 2020.  

“I remember in 2020, probably around October, saying, ‘wow, I’ll be glad when 2020 is over.’ And my daughter looked at me at the time, and she said, ‘Mom, who ever said 2021 is gonna be better?’ And I thought, well that’s a good point, but 2020 was pretty bad,” Thompson said. “Then we get to 2021, and it has been worse.” 

The last time we sat down with Thompson, she was getting ready to have blood drawn as part of a study looking into the prevalence of insulin resistance in law enforcement officers, looking to identify and reverse the adverse health effects caused by the condition.  

“My test results showed that I am definitely well on the inside, so now it’s about me working on the outside,” Thompson said. 

Throughout the year, Thompson has experimented with auricular acupuncture, received advice about her diet’s effects on her body and put a team in place to assist her on her journey, among other things. 

More recently, she started doing meditation at night with what she calls “guided sleep mindfulness.” It’s been so successful, she’s yet to make her way through an entire session. 

“I go to sleep, and I wake up the next morning, and my phone is still on the page, but it’s off,” she said.

Thompson’s never been shy about her battle with weight, and now that her bloodwork came back clean, she’s shifting her focus to her physical condition.  

“A true exercising regimen is not something I’ve had in a long time,” Thompson said. “What I have started doing is running stairs because it’s in my house, and I have no excuse not to do it.” 

Her next step is just that. She plans to start walking outside before she goes to work because she knows once she gets into the office, she could be there well into the night. 

“Be rejuvenated as I’m starting work and ready to deal with whatever comes my way, and lately there’s been a lot of unknowns, or as we call them, ‘can’t see-ums,’” she added. 

While Thompson looks to make improvements, she also acknowledges the community she serves is seeing an increase in violence, much like other cities and towns throughout the country. This year alone, Winston-Salem police have investigated at least 40 homicides, which is the highest number of killings in the city in decades. 

“Then you think about the number of times we’ve had to deploy our SWAT team,” she added. “Our officer-involved shootings.” 

In 2021, Winston-Salem officers also became targets, including having a district substation shot at, leading to a chase and officer-involved shooting at a park. Police and Forsyth County deputies also investigated a deadly shooting at Mount Tabor High School, where they say a student was killed by a classmate. 

“I lost an officer this year. Never saw it coming,” Thompson continued. “I’ve also lost a civilian employee just recently. Again, never saw it coming.” 

Thompson believes a solution to the violence is something the city may not be able to enjoy for more than five years. That, she says, lies in instilling “hope” within the youth of the city. Some, she says, who don’t expect to live to the age of 25. Namely, teaching them that there are ways out of trying situations with a focus on education. 

“So it’s not necessary for us to join a gang so someone can help us buy a pair of tennis shoes. Or it’s not necessary that we get involved in crime because we have the employment, we have the education, we have those things that we need to be successful in life, to be healthy and to be happy,” she said. “We’ve got to be more intentional about letting our children know that there is space for them in those places, and that we’re relying on them to get there because it’s what they do there that’s going to determine what our future looks like.” 

Regardless of the challenges 2022 presents, Thompson says her newfound self-awareness allows her to be “better” as her department continues to protect and serve. 

“We still have a job to do,” Thompson said. “We still have a whole city of nearly 250,000 people that are depending on us to get out and get it done.” 

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