Former Phoenix Police assistant chief: Williams’ legacy is transparency, leadership amid protests

May 4, 2022, 4:35 AM
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Police Department)...
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Police Department)
(Facebook Photo/Phoenix Police Department)

PHOENIX — The former assistant chief of the Phoenix Police Department said Tuesday that Jeri Williams’ time as head of the force will be remembered for transparency advances and her leadership during protests following the death of George Floyd.

Williams, the first woman police chief in Phoenix’s history, announced she will retire this summer after nearly six years as chief and more than 25 years with the department.

“Her legacy in my mind is going to be that she continued moving the Phoenix Police Department forward during her tenure as police chief,” Kevin Robinson, former assistant chief of the Phoenix Police Department, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos and Chad. “She made things more transparent, body-worn cameras throughout the organization.

“When you sit back and look at it from a technological standpoint, look at the strides that she has made, they were at the forefront of policing in the 21st century.”

Williams was a commander working for Robinson when he was assistant chief, but he said their professional and personal friendship goes back to when she first started with the department in 1989.

“I think she has done a very good job,” Robinson said. “She’s done a tremendous job.”

Robinson complimented Williams’ leadership during the protests following Floyd’s death in Minnesota police custody in the summer of 2020, saying she demonstrated that she could understand everyone’s feelings.

“She understood why people were protesting, she understood the angst on the part of the police officers, she understood all of those things,” Robinson said. “She continued moving forward, she was available, she spoke out, she made sure everyone understood that she was for good policing, professional policing.

“I think when we sit back, it was that ability to navigate, that ability to lead in really tough times.”

Williams is retiring amidst her department being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice regarding potential civil rights violations and abuses of power. Whatever comes from that investigation, Robinson said Williams will be accountable.

“I don’t think Jeri (Williams) will shy away from any of the things that have occurred recently,” Robinson said. “I think she will stand up to it. She will own it if it’s her responsibility to own.”

He added that, statistically, the tenure of most major city police chiefs is five years.

“What happens during those five years, if something catastrophic within an organization occurs, and we’ve had a couple within Phoenix, ultimately, it’s the police chief’s responsibility,” Robinson said. “Jeri (Williams) understood that, anybody who wants to be a police chief has to understand that.”

Robinson said he has yet to talk to Williams about her decision to retire at this time, but mentioned he has heard from other law enforcement organizations around the country that she has been sought after for some time from a consulting standpoint.

“I don’t know what’s going on and why she chose now, whether or not she pops up somewhere else or she just sits back for a while and enjoys her family,” he said.

Robinson added he believes the process to replace Williams will take at least a year and include a nationwide search with City Manager Jeff Barton getting input from law enforcement executives from around the country.

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Former Phoenix Police assistant chief: Williams’ legacy is transparency, leadership amid protests