A new model for law enforcement: Dr. Chuck Williamson
Some years ago, as a law enforcement administrator, Chuck Williamson spearheaded the design and oversaw the construction of a $80 million Guilford County, N.C., public safety complex. His plan focused on a new approach to managing the county’s inmate population, one that took into account the unique mental health needs of the incarcerated while keeping his community safe.
The plan worked. In just one year, violent conflicts in the complex decreased from 400 to zero.
Now, as dean of the Anderson University School of Public Service and Administration, Dr. Williamson has a new mission. In addition to growing the University’s programs and building on its legacy of academic excellence, he hopes to address criminal justice reform through an evidence-driven research agenda.
Growing up on the southside of Greensboro, Dr. Williamson had mixed feelings about the police officers in his neighborhood. Some were friendly to him and his friends. But most weren’t.
“They were very heavy handed with my community in Greensboro's southside,” Dr. Williamson said. “The only interaction I had with them felt aggressive in nature. In my view, there wasn't much positive interaction with police.”
So, when Dr. Williamson started college, he majored in criminal justice with plans of becoming a victim’s advocate. Then, the young Dr. Williamson met a sociology professor who told him that the most effective way to change an organization is to change it from within.
With that advice, Dr. Williamson interned with the Raleigh (North Carolina) Police Department in 1987 to learn more about policing. And after that experience, he was in.
Dr. Williamson enjoyed the internship and respected the criminal justice system even in the midst of its weaknesses. And he figured if he could have a positive impact in his practice of policing, he could influence greater change in the field of law enforcement. In Dr. Williamson’s three-decade career for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, he did just that: led change in law enforcement by holding his officers accountable for how they treated people and considering how their policing affected citizens’ lives.
By “affecting” their lives, Dr. Williamson means that he considered how taking police action could positively or negatively impact people’s lives, from writing citations to making arrests. For example, if a woman had expired car tags but had two baby seats in the back of her car,
Dr. Williamson could have ticketed her. But such a fine could’ve created yet another barrier for the possibly struggling single mom paying to renew her tags.
“There is such a thing as discretionary policing,” Dr. Williamson said. “Every decision is not easy.”
As an officer for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, Dr. Williamson also became interested in how people enter the justice system as well as the systemic inequities that keep them there longer or slow the process of justice.
For example, Dr. Williamson said he’s troubled by the criminal justice system’s failure to honor citizens’ constitutional right to a speedy trial if the citizen lacks money or social capital. People in this position can be in jail for three years before they have a trial, he said. Meanwhile, wealthier people can hire a private attorney and expedite getting their case heard, and perhaps avoid jail altogether.
When Dr. Williamson became a sergeant in 1992, he worked with his 12 officers to protect the Constitution, namely, helping facilitate a speedy trial, respecting a suspect’s rights and not serving as an antagonist in their lives.
For example, when you stop motorists, Dr. Williamson said, look them in the eyes and tell them why they’re being stopped and respect their humanity.
“When you don’t respect people, they rebel,” he said. “Let them ask reasonable questions ... treat people how you want to be treated.”
Dr. Williamson said he learned to listen to people and, as a result, developed good judgement of whether someone was telling the truth, and he would divert people out of the criminal justice system.
After he served as a sergeant, Dr. Williamson became an administrative lieutenant. He handled human resource issues and staffing to cover zones, and he performed job performance appraisals for four platoons, which ranged from 12 to 42 officers per unit. Dr. Williamson also served as a lieutenant over the court services bureau, overseeing about 50 people- When Dr. Williamson became a captain within the Sheriff’s Office, he oversaw the jail division and its 800 beds. The jail’s overcrowding, bad working conditions and fights inspired him to advocate for the building of a new jail. Dr. Williamson and others with the Sheriff’s Office successfully sold their design plan to the public, which narrowly passed the measure in a 2008 referendum.
Dr. Williamson then became part of the design team. The jail took five years to build, cost about $80 million and taught him that jails are big business, he said.
“That’s when I lost all my hair,” he said.
The new jail included a mental health wing and included layers of security that made inmates feel more like adults, Dr. Williamson said. Fights fell from 400 a year, before the new jail was built, to zero in the new facility, he said.
Once completed, Dr. Williamson served as the captain who oversaw the creation of a 300-page document that showed officers how to operate the facility. After serving as captain, Dr. Williamson served as a major and court services bureau commander at the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office. He retired from law enforcement in 2018.
Dr. Williamson earned a Master of Public Administration in 2001 from North Carolina Central University and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from North Carolina A&T State University. Before teaching at AU, he designed and taught criminal justice and other courses at Forsyth Technical Community College, Capella University and Walden University.
Once Dr. Williamson began teaching, he fell in love with the long discussions he had with students and how those discussions challenged students to question their assumptions.
“I could see students learning,” said Dr. Williamson, a 20-year veteran educator who taught as an adjunct professor in AU’s Master of Criminal Justice program before becoming dean of the School of Public Service and Administration in 2019.
Dr. Williamson has the ability to clearly explain how the field of criminal justice covers a universe of sociological forces in American society and can be a tool to address systemic societal problems. In fact, when questioned about recent turmoil in the U.S. between the police and communities of color, Dr. Williamson explained that there has always been a divide between government and citizens.
“That polarization has always been there,” Dr. Williamson said, adding that the current difference is that political agendas are exacerbating the polarization. Moreover, police officers are simply the most identifiable symbol of government. Racism is not a discretely police problem, he says, but a problem that is present throughout society.
We need to deal with racism in all its forms, not just in police organizations, he said. But as it relates to police organizations, Dr. Williamson says criminal justice reform is necessary, and we need to gather data to inform new policies.
Dr. Williamson’s hope is that new graduate programs within the School of Public Service and Administration will contribute to the research to help drive criminal justice reform. New and planned programs include AU’s Master of Public Administration and a Ph.D. in Leadership program with a concentration in Public Service and Administration.
In addition to being an erudite dean and retired law enforcement leader, Dr. Williamson is the husband to his wife of 30 years, Dr. Beth Williamson, and three adult sons, including one who is a State Trooper with the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
“I am blessed.”
School of Public Service and Administration new programs
The Anderson University School of Public Service and Administration will launch three new public service and administration programs over the next two years. They include the Master of Public Administration, a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice concentration in forensics and an online Flex degree program in Criminal Justice.
Dean Dr. Chuck Williamson said the School of Public Service and Administration started the programs at the request of
the students who sought expertise in broader areas of public service. The Master of Public Administration is designed to address the country’s need for Christian leadership in public service, emergency management and nonprofits that serve the public, he said.
“We need an infusion of good leadership training,” Dr. Williamson said.
The 36-credit-hour program, which starts this fall, covers the following knowledge and skills in seven-week online courses:
- principles of public service administration
- research methods
- leadership theory, including critical analysis and how to apply the theories
- finance and budgeting
- organizational behavior, including the awareness that organizations are living entities that produce good and bad behavior
- techniques in planning and evaluation
- contemporary urban issues, e.g., poverty, food insecurity planning and community development
- community engagement
- use of technological tools in community planning
The Master of Public Administration expands the School of Public Service and Administration’s graduate programs beyond the successful Master of Criminal Justice, which equips law enforcement professionals but requires seated courses.
This new degree, which takes about 18 months to complete, will equip students who are—or aspire to be—in public administration roles, rather than those serving in law enforcement.
The Master of Public Service and Administration is designed to educate students to lead and manage the business aspects of government programs, offices, and employees at local, state and federal levels of government.
New Undergraduate Programs
In addition to the new graduate degree, the School of Public Service and Administration is rolling out undergraduate programs, including the Bachelor of Criminal Justice in a Flex degree format, which enables students to complete their bachelor’s degree more quickly than through a traditional format and can save students money. Currently, AU also offers Flex degrees in nursing, human services, healthcare management, gerontology and behavioral health.
In addition to the Flex program, this fall the School of Public Service and Administration has started an 18-credit-hour Forensics and Criminal Investigations concentration that teaches students the science to determine who committed a crime. The discipline also helps law enforcement absolve innocent people and avoid wrongful convictions.
Dr. Williamson says the Forensics and Criminal Investigations concentration will evolve into a Bachelor of Science in Forensics and Criminal Investigation. The school also hopes to eventually launch a Bachelor of Public Administration, which can lead graduates into careers in law or politics.