Penn chosen to lead WSPD

William Penn Jr.

Penn chosen to lead WSPD
February 06
08:24 2023

Winston-Salem native William Penn Jr. has been named Chief of the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD). Penn was one of four finalists vying for the position following a nationwide recruiting effort. The other finalists were Assistant Chief Jose “Manny” Gomez and Assistant Chief Wilson S. Weaver, both of the WSPD, and Chief Scott C. Booth of the Danville Police Department. 

Penn will replace Catrina Thompson who left the WSPD last month after being nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as U.S. Marshall for the Middle District of North Carolina.

Penn joined the WSPD in 1998 and has worked through the ranks over the past 25 years. He currently leads the Investigative Services Bureau and has served as district 1 commander and support services commander. Penn has also worked with foot patrol, vice and narcotics, and crime prevention divisions. 

When asked why he wanted to lead the WSPD, Penn said he is invested in this community. He also mentioned that people in the community and officers within the department asked him to apply for the position. “I don’t think there’s any honor higher than people telling you, I want to follow you; I’ll follow your lead,” said Penn during the town hall at Salem Lake Marina last week. 

To engage citizens and help build trust, Penn says he plans to organize a Chief Advisory Board and hold a listening tour to hear the concerns of citizens in different neighborhoods. Penn said the only way to build trust is through communication. 

“Sometimes we need to sit back and just listen,” Penn said. “We need to hear what’s going on from you all. So listening tours throughout the community to make sure you are heard.”

When he takes the reins of the WSPD, Penn will have some challenges to face. Although the department has progressed in recent years, staffing shortages will be a major issue. Currently the WSPD is short 141 sworn officers. Another challenge will be the rise in gun violence and other violent crimes. 

In 2022 there were 33 homicides in Winston-Salem. ln just one month into the new year, there has already been eight homicides compared to only three at the same point in time last year. Penn says this isn’t an issue that will be addressed by just making arrests. He proposed fighting the problem with prevention and intervention. 

Penn used the acronym PIA to discuss his plan to fight the rise in gun violence, specifically involving young people.The acronym stands for Prevention, Intervention, Apprehension. “We can’t keep arresting ourselves out of the problems; the police department has been doing that for years and we’re still here,” Penn said. 

A few days before it was announced that Penn had been chosen to lead the Winston-Salem Police Department, reports began to surface on the senseless murder of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who was severely beaten by five Black police officers with the Memphis Police Department. 

Allegedly, Nichols was stopped for reckless driving. After being pulled from his car, pepper sprayed and tased, at some point during his interaction with the officers, Nichols managed to break away. When they caught up with Nichols, the officers essentially beat Nichols to death. 

He was assaulted for about three minutes by the five officers, Nichols died three days later in the hospital. 

In the press release issued by the city announcing the hiring decision, Penn referred to the video footage of Nichols’ interaction with the Memphis Police Department as “despicable.” He said the actions depicted by the officers in the video do not represent the WSPD. 

“Although I’m honored and excited about the opportunity to lead this department, the gravity of this position is not lost on me,” Penn said. “As we are all reeling over the despicable video of the Tyre Nichols’ killing, I want to assure the community that the actions depicted in the video do not represent the Winston-Salem Police Department and our values.

“The violence in our community must stop and we must all work together to provide healthy alternatives to violence to resolve conflict.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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