Story and photos by Floyd Alvin Galloway
America’s sixth largest city, Phoenix, added another page to its history books on October 28 with the swearing in of Jeri Williams as the city’s first female police chief.
Mayor Greg Stanton, City Manager Ed Zueckerberg, Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney, along with Council-man Michael Nowakowski noted the importance of this moment in the city’s history.
During a ceremony held at the Phoenix Convention Center, hundreds of friends, family members, colleagues, several Valley police chiefs and civic leaders witnessed Chief Williams take the oath of office from her husband, Cody Williams, justice of the peace and former Phoenix councilman.
On stage during the historic swearing-in was her father Jim Jones, holding the Bible, on which Williams placed her hand, and a family picture with Williams’ deceased mother Mildred Jones and youngest son, Cody, who pinned the chief’s badge on her shirt.
Family is an important part and support system for the Chief as she noted during her remarks. Her eldest son, Alan, a Phoenix Suns center traveling with team, also proud of his mother’s accomplishment, tweeted his pride in his mother when her selection was first announced.
Williams, a Phoenix native, has been in law enforcement for 28 years, rising up the ranks of the Phoenix Police department from an officer walking the beat to assistant chief in 2009.
In 2011, Williams accepted a position as the police chief of Oxnard, California, where she served five and half years prior to becoming Phoenix’s chief. In a previous interview, she noted, “Oxnard has been a great opportunity to gather experience and I think I have made a difference here.” Several Oxnard police officials attended the ceremony.
Williams becomes the second African-American to lead the Phoenix police agency, following in the footsteps of Harold Hurtt, a mentor of Williams.
Williams replaces Chief Joe Yahner, who was honored during a retirement celebration prior to Williams swearing in. Williams paid tribute to Yahner’s leadership, acknowledging the great job he did as chief. The two became assistant police chiefs at the same time years earlier. Williams edged out 65 applicants to become the city’s first female top cop.
Controversial and some times fatal incidents between police and individuals of color around the country in recent years, including incidents in the Valley have heightened a division between the two communities.
Williams will take on the challenge of bridging that deep chasm. “The mission of the police department is to serve and protect, reduce crime in Phoenix, while treating everyone with dignity and respect,” Williams expressed during the swearing in.
“Phoenix Police will continue to be accountable, responsible, respectful, as well as transparent,” said Chief Williams.
Coming from a strong community policing Chief of Police, Chief Williams stated the priorities under her leadership will be crime suspension and prevention, community engagement and outreach, professional training and retention, employee well being and increasing legitimacy internally
“I am your chief,” expressed Chief Williams to a receptive crowd of citizens and rank and file members of her department.
Starting her career in law enforcement following her graduation from Arizona State University, Williams’ mother, a well-know community leader, gave her some marching orders to get a job. When she saw a police recruitment flyer, she decided to apply. “I come from a family that is community oriented, so I wanted to give back and help my community,’ said Chief Williams previously.
Throughout her career Chief Williams, who is also an ordained minister noted that she has been blessed to have different mentors, male and female, that have seen leadership qualities in her and guided her along the way.
Chief Williams told the audience because she has been given so much by so many it is required of her to step-out on that foundation.
“I’ve been given so much by each of you inside and outside of these doors, it is now required of me to step out on faith, experience, leadership and grace to lead this agency forward into a bright future.”
Though she knows the challenges of being the first female and first female African-American police chief in her hometown, Chief Williams is definitely ready, as her achievements have proven over the last 28 years.