Antonio "Tony" Williams took over as police chief and director of public safety at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) on
A Baltimore native, Williams, 46, is a longtime law enforcement official, having retired from the Baltimore Police Department before serving as chief of police for Baltimore City Public Schools and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). He sat down with writer Chris Zang from the Office of External Affairs several weeks before taking his UMB post.
The following is a longer version of the interview excerpts appearing in the February VOICE.
Question: Tell me about your education and training.
Answer: I graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. I have an AA degree in law enforcement from what was then the Community College of Baltimore. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from the University of Baltimore in 1997. It took me almost nine years to get a four-year degree working full time and raising a family and all that. I was fortunate enough to get my Master of Science in management in two years from Johns Hopkins University. In terms of other training and education, most significantly I'm a graduate of the 222nd section of the FBI National Academy.
Q: That's very impressive.
A: I was very fortunate. Less than 1 percent of all active law enforcement people get to go through the FBI National Academy. I've also been to one- to three-day training programs on college emergency preparedness, homeland security planning for campus executives, simulation-based training for command post personnel, and one for law enforcement executive officers.
Q: So while you were going to school were you also working for the Baltimore Police Department?
A: Yes, in fact the city police force opened the door for me to complete my education.
Q: What was your tenure there with the city police force?
A: 1986 to 2005. I did 19 and 1/2 years to be exact.
Q: What was your rank there when you left?
A: I was a colonel and I was chief of detectives. I actually retired from there to take a position as chief of police with the Baltimore school system. The school system has its own police department and I was chief.
Q: I didn't realize public school systems had police departments.
A: Actually it's a growing trend around the country. More school districts are employing their own police forces to give them specialized attention-more service oriented, not just arresting people.
Q: That was 2005 to ...?
Q: Then UMBC after that?
Q: Did you begin there as chief or at a lower rank?
A: I began there as chief. It was a very good tenure at UMBC. We were able to do some good things, improve operations but more so the customer service aspect of the police department.
Q: The difference between UMB and UMBC is only one letter. I'm guessing that some of the things you have achieved at UMBC you're probably going to try to implement here.
A: I look at this as quite a different opportunity than UMBC. My roots and the bulk of my police experience are certainly in an urban environment so I feel quite at home here. But one thing I would say and like people to know is that I won't be looking to turn the UMB police department into the UMBC police department. It's nice to get into an environment, really assess it, get to know the people and learn what their needs are, what they want in terms of their police department. And develop it and grow from there. I've found that as a model that works very well for me. I've never gone into any police department or assignment and made changes without first learning what the needs are in that community specifically, and we adapt and grow to that.
People would probably want to know what I bring to the table in terms of experience and what they can look forward to. I bring diversified experience in many areas of police administration as well as police operations. I've worked undercover, but I've also worked in hiring and recruitment. I've worked in internal affairs where I've investigated police officers. I've run four different police commands where I've had everything from 100 to 200 people to where as chief of detectives I had 400 people under my command. But I think the greatest asset that I bring to the table is a passion for wanting to help people and to ensure their safety.
Q: We're glad to hear that, that's for sure. So aside from what Chief Barnes (outgoing Police Chief Cleveland Barnes Jr., MS) has been able to tell you, what do you know about the UMB Police Force? Will it be a major learning curve?
A: It will be a learning curve, but I certainly don't consider it insurmountable. Outside of the basic things-how many officers we have, how many security officers, the jurisdiction, things of that nature-what I also know, and it is very significant, is that this is an accredited police department through CALEA [Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc.]. What you and others may or may not know is that the Board of Regents is requiring every University System of Maryland police department to be accredited by the year 2013. What that does for me and certainly for our department is because we're already accredited, it gives us a perspective of being able to provide some leadership and help some of the departments to get there. Accreditation also means your department subscribes to meeting certain standards, so it should give great pride and credibility to the police department not just in the University system but in the city, state, and even the country.
Q: Before you became interested in the job did you know Chief Barnes?
A: Yes, I did know him and had some great interactions with him.
Q: I probably wouldn't be the first to tell you that you have some big shoes to fill.
A: Oh, absolutely. Believe me, I know. Even when I interviewed the very first time for this position people made it very clear that Chief Barnes was very well-respected and that if I got the position I would have some very big shoes to fill. I like the fact that he's well-respected professionally but also well-liked personally. He's a people person and that's become even more evident in recent days as we've moved around the campus. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. And people are saying, "We're sorry to see you go." And I think that's the right situation. He deserves every accolade he's received.
Q: Is it too early to talk about your goals for the department?
A: It's a bit premature other than to say we would certainly like to build on the progress and the successes that Chief Barnes and his team have already done. We want to improve in whatever areas we need to improve in, whether it's better customer service, crime prevention, etc. But overall our goal is to build on the success of the police department.
Q: It's human nature to be a bit uncomfortable with change. Any assurances you can give to members of your police force?
A: Sure, the message I would give to the police department right now is in the beginning do not expect any drastic changes. It's a quality police department. They do good work and we're looking to build on that. What every person in this department, sworn or unsworn, will learn is that the new chief will take time to get to know them individually and get to know their strengths, areas they can improve in, and what they bring to the table. But right upfront don't expect any drastic changes.
Q: Tell me about your family.
A: I have two beautiful daughters, one is 20 and the other is 17. (See photo above) I've been married 22 years.
Q: Are there any professional organizations you belong to that you wish to mention?
A: I'm in the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, the Harvard Associates in Police Science, the FBI National Academy Associates, and the Maryland Crime Prevention Association.
Q: What are the first things you want to do at UMB?
A: What I'll be doing is certainly getting to know the department, the command members of the department, but certainly getting out around campus meeting those key people and making observations firsthand.
Q: What type of reception have you been getting and what kind of reception did you expect to get?
A: I've been very well-received. Everyone has told me though they're sad to see Chief Barnes going they're glad to see me coming. I'll tell you something you probably already know: Police are great at gathering information [laughs]. That's what police do: They fact-find. So police have already done their recognizance on me. I was telling an officer the other day, "You all probably know more about me than [I know myself]" [laughs]. Police have a way. They call. They talk to people. They know. So already a lot of them have formed a preliminary opinion about me and the feedback has been positive. They say they like the idea that I'm approachable, which is how I am. And in terms of the reception that I expect to receive, I expect people to be open, I expect people to be professional, and I've already seen that in the few days that I've been here.