New Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams: ‘Work tirelessly to make the community safe’

Oxnard California Police Chief Jeri Williams addresses the crowd after being announced at Phoenix’s new Police Chief at a press conference on Thursday, July 14th. (Photo by: Christina Tetreault/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Arizona native Jeri Williams will become the first woman and second African American to lead the Phoenix Police Department when she becomes chief in October.

Williams, a former Maryvale resident who spent most of her nearly three-decade career with the department before being tapped as the Oxnard, Calif. police chief in 2011, has deep roots in Phoenix. So does her family. Her husband, Cody Williams, is a justice of the peace and former Phoenix city councilman and her son, Alan Williams, plays for the Phoenix Suns.

Cronkite News interviewed Williams about her new role. The interview has been lightly edited.

How does it feel to make history in Phoenix?

In this whole process, and people may not believe this, I did not think about making history. What I thought about is what I’ve done for the past 28 years in law enforcement. And that is work hard, being a leader, taking everything seriously. Just work tirelessly to make the community safe. I’m certain it was in my mind that I was ‘making history,’ but I don’t believe that I got picked because I’m female. I know I got picked because I am the best person for the job at this time.

What was it like standing before the media and so many community members and leaders?

It’s so nice to in light of the national message of what’s going on in law enforcement, from tragedies in Dallas to the different messaging going around in law enforcement, to have a positive, happy time where the community is supportive. The media has been amazingly supportive, and the city of Phoenix Police Department, my friends, and my family have been so supportive. I’m blessed and I’m honored to be in the position that I’m in and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How will you work on your transition from Oxnard to Phoenix?

Fortunately for me, the transition from Phoenix to Oxnard was an amazing transition and the community was supportive. The (Oxnard) police department was supportive, the mayor and council was supportive, and to me, it will be just coming back home, which is really nice. I know the streets, I know the culture. I will have to learn and meet new people. I prided myself on having really good working relationships with the media prior to me leaving, so learning the new faces and the new nuances will be challenging – not insurmountable – and not anything I’m not used to and accustomed to. I’m looking forward to being the city’s police chief regardless of what community that is.

What are you going to do to bridge the distrust between some Phoenix residents and police officers?

The vast majority of contacts that officers in the police department make every day are favorable. They are wonderful, they are helping people. They are answering phone calls for service and problem solving. In those rare instances and occasions where there are challenges, I have to be notified. If I don’t know that something has happened, how am I going to fix something? How am I going to train if I don’t know something has happened?

As a Maryvale native, obviously you have a connection to the tragic events of the serial shootings there. How do you feel about what’s going on?

I was born and raised in Maryvale, went to Maryvale High School, went to elementary school in Maryvale. When I see an incident like that, it impacts the entire city. What we’re trying to find is not just the suspect in these heinous crimes, but to be aware of how other people in the city are feeling, too. I also want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that as chief, I’m not just one geographical chief. I’m the chief of the entire city and it’s our job to make everyone feel safe. I’m confident in the detectives and the officers working that case that they will break that case but, caveat: we do need the help of the community. If someone has seen something, please say something to us. We really do want to resolve this issue and bring justice to those family members.