When Maumelle Police Chief Sam Williams leaves his office next month, he will take with him more than 40 years' worth of memorabilia, keepsakes and vestiges of a life lived in police work.
Williams, who has led the Maumelle Police Department for 19 years and will retire in September, keeps a long cabinet full of mementos in his office. There are coffee mugs from a dozen police departments, a permit for the Batmobile, the helmet Williams wore in Iraq, photos of his family, and scores of other trinkets filling the cabinet shelves.
Most of the items are gifts -- like the mug that says "Keep Calm and Let the Chief Handle It" -- Williams said. Others are personal, like the photo of his brother, the late W.W. Williams, who became a captain at the Little Rock Police Department shortly after Williams.
The gifts and souvenirs have spilled out across his office, covering the windowsills and even across the wooden desk in the center of the room. Some of the tokens are dusty; others were given to him as recently as last week.
"I have lived a life other men only dream of," Williams said, smiling as he paraphrased a Merle Haggard song. "I have the best job a man can have."
Williams said he doesn't want to retire. After nearly 20 years at the department and more than 40 years in law enforcement, it's hard to go.
"What I'd love to do is spend the next 20 years as chief, too," he said. "But, you know, I'll be 65 on Sept. 2. Half the people I work with now, I've been a cop longer than they've been alive. It's been a joy to see this department grow in the last 20 years, and I'll be watching when the next guy comes, too."
So, on Sept. 3, city officials and police officers will gather at the Maumelle Center to congratulate Williams on his retirement.
"He's down to earth, empathetic, yet vigilant. He's done a great job creating a culture in his department where the officers are both vigilant ... but the pendulum doesn't swing so far as to become heavy handed," Maumelle Mayor Caleb Norris said.
"Being able to treat every Maumelle resident and visitor to the area with respect while still enforcing the law is difficult. That culture is something he's worked on and is an extension of his personality," the mayor said.
When Williams joined the Little Rock Police Department as a cadet at the age of 18, he said he didn't see police work as a career, but as a temporary job until he figured out a life plan. As a cadet, however, he worked with the vice squad, and Williams said he found his niche.
"I loved it. I loved the work, but I think most of all I loved the people," Williams said. "You can't do this job and not love the people you work with. You see too much bad, too much hurt. If you didn't love the people you work with, you'd burn out."
After going to the police academy, Williams began working in narcotics, and he said he enjoyed that unit as much as the vice squad.
In narcotics, Williams said he met one of the greatest mentors of his career: David Rowan.
Williams said Rowan, who retired from the department as an assistant chief, pushed the officers around him not just to do good work and to succeed but also to better themselves and to grow.
Williams said Rowan talked him into taking the sergeant's exam, even though at the time all Williams wanted to do was stay in the narcotics unit.
"Sam, he was one of those people who [you] recognize right off as having a lot to give to the organization," Rowan said recently. "Intelligent. Determined. You could tell he loved law enforcement -- that's the kind of person you seek not only for a police officer but for a leadership position in the department."
Rowan, who was Williams' supervisor at the time, wouldn't take no for an answer, and didn't stop pestering Williams until he'd passed the test.
In the years following, Williams would become a sergeant, lieutenant, and, eventually, captain before he left the Little Rock department to become chief in Maumelle.
"He succeeded, and he just repeated that over and over in the department," Rowan said. "I believe he's done the same thing in Maumelle. Sam is one of those people who is of the utmost character. He is honest, honorable and he is the kind of leader that you want, with a high degree of personal and professional integrity. I'm proud of him and proud to call him a friend."
FOCUS ON PEOPLE
Williams also served in Iraq for a year between July 2005 and July 2006, training Iraqi leaders to be police officers.
Looking back on his career, Williams said he doesn't want to focus on the change in technology or investigative methods since he first joined a police force.
"I think it's important, but it doesn't tell the story," Williams said. "The story is how we've come along as people."
Williams said that when he first joined the department there was "no shortage of white men," and very few signs of any other race or gender. In the years since, Williams said departments have been pushed to look more "like the community they serve," but Williams said he believes there has been a cultural change in policing.
"I don't think departments are being pushed as much any more to be inclusive; I think police are realizing the benefit of having all perspectives, all people," he said. "I'm not saying we're perfect, we're not. We've got a long way to go. But we used to say we were tolerant, but I hate that. You couldn't be proud to be you back then. I don't want us to tolerate people; we've got to love them."
Williams said former Little Rock Assistant Chief Clarence Hunter, one of the few black police officers in Little Rock when Williams began training, is one of the reasons he wants police departments to be more open and welcoming.
"You know, Lt. Hunter -- he was a lieutenant when I knew him -- you know he had to go through so much, but he never stopped smiling," Williams said. "He joined the department in the '50s -- you know he had to put up with so much. But nobody ever taught me more about what a police officer should be than him."
Williams said being inclusive not only helps the department better investigate and solve crimes, but aids community relationships, too.
"I don't want anyone to walk into our door and not feel welcome, not feel like there's someone here who understands them," Williams said. "If they're coming to us, they're probably not having a great day. The least we can do is make them feel welcome here."
The community, Williams said, has shown love to the Police Department and its officers in return.
"I don't know which came first -- it's a chicken and egg deal -- but this community embraces the Maumelle Police Department like nothing I've ever seen," he said. "That is just such a blessing, but that is why I am so protective of them. If you lose that trust, boy, it is hard to get back."
When department leaders decided the officers needed body cameras in 2015, Williams said citizens came by and wrote $1,000 and even $2,000 checks to make sure the department had the funds to purchase them.
"I can't ask for much from the people of Maumelle, because if I do, we'll have it in a matter of hours," Williams said. "I'm protective of the citizens because I know if they think we need it, they'll give it to us."
Outside of a career, Williams said police work also gave him a family. Williams met his wife, Terry McBroom Williams, while serving on a committee for the Little Rock Police Department in 2000.
"I looked up and I was sitting across the table from the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen," Williams said. "We started dating and, about six months later, we got married."
Williams said Terry taught him how to be a family man and a Christian man with strong beliefs.
"She has taught me more than anyone," he said. "I can have a bad day and one look from her and I'm good. My wife is without a doubt my rock."
Though people who know him say Williams has worked for every achievement or honor he's received, Williams contends that he has simply been very lucky and very blessed.
"You know, I have tricked the city of Maumelle for 19 years," he said. "If they knew what they could have had, they never would have picked me. I thank God every day that Maumelle gave me 19 years. No one deserved it less than I did."
Metro on 08/12/2019
Print Headline: 40 years of policing ends next month for Maumelle chief