As soon as Waynesboro Police Chief Alfonzo Williams was named director of the Richmond County School Safety and Security Department last week, calls, e-mails and pleas flooded in from his hometown.
“He can’t go,” declared Ernest Johnson, the owner of downtown Waynesboro’s Johnson Beauty and Barber. “He busted up all these drug problems, the gangs. The crime has all gone down because of him. We all hate to see him go.”
Williams said he sees a purpose in taking his talents to a school system that is five times larger than the city he has watched over for years. With a background in child abuse and violent crime investigations, he believes he can bring a sense of security to schools at a time when the nation is grappling with school shootings and bullying tragedies.
“If we’re going to resolve crime and poverty and homelessness and delinquency and abuse, we’ve got to start with our children,” Williams said. “This opportunity allows me to try and serve as a mentor, to hold parents accountable and to help fix our society.”
Williams, who will go on duty in early March, takes over for Patrick Clayton, who left in January to become Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree’s chief deputy.
Williams’ initial focus will be to evaluate the security of elementary schools and determine whether the department can add more officers to those campuses. Only middle and high schools have full-time resource officers.
Williams said he wants his officers to provide emotional and psychological support and to be seen as educators rather than an oppressive force.
“Yes, police officers serve as security, but we also serve as mentors,” he said.
Richmond County Board of Education member Jack Padgett said the decision to select Williams for the $96,000 position was easy, especially after seeing his work in Waynesboro.
“He’s done a good job, and we need him here,” Padgett said.
Williams grew up in Waynesboro’s housing projects with six siblings and his single mother, who he said was not tolerant of any misbehaving or anything less than B’s at school. Because of that upbringing, some of his siblings became assistant superintendent of Burke County schools and an assistant principal.
Growing up knowing he’d never want to do anything but police work, Williams began his law enforcement career in 1990 with the Augusta Police Department. There he led the murder investigation of Mary Colley Stewart, who was killed by a janitor in the building where she worked and whose body was dumped into a landfill.
Over the span of 21 years, he worked as the acting chief of the Waynesboro Police Department, an officer at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, a teacher and director at the region’s police academy, and an instructor at Augusta Technical College. In February 2011, he was hired as Waynesboro’s police chief and immediately enacted changes.
Williams created a citizens police academy and a citizens on patrol program and put more officers on every shift to increase police presence and connect with the community.
From 2010 to 2011, robberies dropped 62 percent, burglaries 37 percent and assaults 21 percent. Armed robberies increased slightly in 2012, but Williams said there is more trust between the community and the police than ever before.
Williams worked to boost professionalism in his department by increasing training and holding officers accountable for overtime and sick leave abuses.
Before, there was no respect, he said. It was common to see residents throw rocks and bottles at patrol cars.
“This was a very troubled department, very embarrassing,” Williams said. “The crime culture was in charge of the city.”
Waynesboro Ward 3 City Councilwoman Brenda Lewis said she has not given up on trying to persuade Williams to stay. She said she called a meeting for 2 p.m. today to discuss the issue. In January, a motion to hire Williams as the city’s assistant administrator failed by one vote.
“We’ve done everything we can to keep him here,” she said. “We need to talk more.”
Williams said he is comfortable in his decision and plans to move his family to Augusta to be a part of the community he serves. There is only good ahead, he said.
“My focus has always been to serve the people and be respected for what I do,” Williams said. “I want to show what public service is supposed to be.”