WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Holding people accountable who chose violence is at the top of Winston-Salem’s new police chief’s list when it comes to addressing violence in the city.
Chief William Penn Jr. took over the role of “Top Cop” Monday.
The former assistant chief enters the role where the start of the year has been a violent one with eight homicides already in the city.
This also comes after the Memphis police video was released of Tyre Nichols. Law enforcement agencies across the country are losing trust.
Despite 25 years of experience with the Winston-Salem Police Department, Chief Penn admits these times are unique and becoming more and more difficult.
“It is a tough time, and the violence doesn’t help either,” he said.
He’s referring to the eight homicides the city of Winston-Salem has seen so far this year, including 12-year-old Enedy Morales who was shot and killed at Weston Park when a fight started.
“I can tell you the WSPD puts all our efforts into curbing the violence and holding those who are doing the violence accountable because of the damage they are doing to our community,” Penn said.
We interviewed an officer about the deadly Weston Park shooting, She broke down in tears talking about the tragedy. It’s those types of crimes that take a toll on the officers at the department, and Penn knows it.
“What I can tell you is that we entered an area of law enforcement where we are paying more attention to our wellbeing…a cumulative trauma will take a hold of you if you don’t pay attention to it. We stress emotional and mental wellness. We have peer support.” he said.
Penn says the work starts with forming relationships with the community.
After video footage of Tyre Nichols’ violent arrest in Memphis was released, he knows some of that trust may be tarnished.
“That type of video erodes the trust of the community which is at the core of what we need to be able to do our jobs effectively,” he said.
That job is getting tougher too. Right now, there are more than 100 officer vacancies in the WSPD.
While the department is working to fill those positions, Penn says you can’t put just anyone in a uniform.
“We have a robust vetting system…it probably adds to our shortages because it takes a long time to vet folks to give them the responsibility…protecting this community. We take that seriously, and it’s no shortcuts. I rest assured you just don’t show up and become an officer here at the WSPD,” he said.
In the last two years, the department has implemented new technology. That includes shot spotters and a real-time crime center. We asked Penn if it’s helping.
“Keep working with us. It’s going to take all our efforts. We didn’t get here overnight. So it’s going to take time and effort, but we’re willing to put in the effort. We need help,” he said.
Penn is a Carver High School grad, and he’s confident he will make a difference in the city he was born and raised in and loves so much
“I think it’s a relationship-built leadership style. I get things done through relationships. I believe in meeting people where they are. I believe in starting a conversation where we agree and then moving forward,” Penn said.
When Penn is not in uniform, he is a Boy Scout leader, an active member of his fraternity and a member of the Winston-Salem Sports Club.
“When I’m not at work, I still have a public servant’s heart. I believe in doing everything I can to keep the community safe. That’s not always arresting people,” he said. “When I’m dealing with the community outside this uniform, I think the work I do is crime prevention. Crime prevention isn’t just locking your doors. It’s providing alternatives for the kids, so they don’t choose violence, getting people safe and affordable homes. When I’m with my habitat board or with my ESR board helping people get the assistance they need, so they can be self-reliant.”