Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson announced last week that she is stepping down in December. She’s been with the department since 1994. WFDD’s Paul Garber spoke to Thompson about her long tenure.
Thompson begins with a remembrance of how an unexpected meeting during her college years in her hometown of Detroit changed the course of her career:
I ended up going to college in the School of Engineering at Wayne State University. And I was miserable. It was computer engineering, and I didn’t like being alone in the lab. So anyway, I go through the Student Union at Wayne State University, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was having a seminar. So I stopped and everything that the agent was saying resonated within me. I ended up taking criminal justice classes — loved it. And they recommended that I go into local law enforcement. So that was my goal, I figured I’d get a job in being a police officer. And then do that for three years, and then get me a real job. And it didn’t take me long after being here and Winston to realize I had a real job.
On how she and the department dealt with police protests following the murder of George Floyd.
I think the difference for us was getting out and communicating with people, but also having a community who was determined that we were going to be heard as citizens in Winston-Salem. We were going to march, we were going to protest, we’re going to speak out, because there was a lot of hurt, anger, pain. And quite honestly, trauma. You know, when you sit on, sit somewhere, and you watch a video of a man, dying a slow and painful death, all while begging for his life — it’s troubling. When I first saw the video, a part of me as I’m watching, it was still hoping that it didn’t play out in the way that it actually did. But that did not happen. Right? We are absolutely against that. That’s not about what we do. And situations like that creates just a bad environment. And also, it totally demolishes our ability to be able to maintain public trust.
On what she thinks will be the biggest challenge for the next police chief:
The next chief is going to still have to deal with violent crime, particularly gun violence. But hopefully we can see the needle being moved in a positive direction. I think a big internal challenge is recruiting and retention. Our department, much like departments across the state of North Carolina and our country, struggling for reasons we’ve discussed: the negative perception on law enforcement, or of the law enforcement profession. But also we have younger people coming in and they’re coming in with degrees. Like many that came before them, and realizing they have other options. They love the law enforcement profession. But some really question and definitely their families question, whether or not the risk is worth the reward.