Honoring retired Chief Luke Williams

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Mayor Rick Kriseman and retired Asst. Chief of Police Luke Williams | President & CEO, PCUL Watson Haynes and Pattye Sawyer

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

CLEARWATER – “Justice for All” was the theme of Pinellas County Urban League’s (PCUL) fifth annual Whitney M. Young Junior Empowerment Luncheon. This year’s celebration honored Assistant Chief of Police Luke Williams for 32 years of service in law enforcement and a lifetime of dedicated public service.

Held at Banquet Masters in Clearwater, Rev. Kenny Irby took over Master of Ceremony duties for PCUL’s second largest fundraiser while Erik C. Smith, PCUL Board Chairman gave the welcome.

“When I think about Luke, a number of words come to mind: integrity, mentor, role model, true public servant, community leader and a true advocate for our youth,” said Chairman Kenneth Welch, Pinellas Board of County Commissioners.

Those words were echoed throughout the afternoon last Friday, Feb. 23. Those words seemed to have defined Williams’ three-decade career at the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD).

Joining the department in1986, the vestiges of Jim Crow St. Pete could still be felt at SPPD.  Two decades before, 12 African-American police officers filed a lawsuit against the department that forced integration. They came to be known as the Courageous 12 and their actions paved the way for both officers of color and women.

Before integration for forced, black officers were treated as second-class citizens. They could only work in black neighborhoods, could only arrest black people and received hand-me-down cars.

Williams once said that he stands on the shoulders of those 12 men, and now after his storied career, “I believe our officers today will call him an inspiration,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman.

In 1996, Williams rose to become a sergeant and in four short years became an assistant chief.

“When I left the police department, I only answered to Chief Holloway. I had a key to every room in the building. I ordered ever car that we had so black officers didn’t get hand-me-down cars like you all did,” said Williams, speaking to one of the last two Courageous 12 officers alive, Leon Jackson.

During his time at the SPPD, he was known for treating everyone, even those he arrested, with respect. He was visible and accessible and spent countless holidays with his police family.

“We don’t really fully understand what kind of commitment that you make when you become a police officer,” said Mayor Kriseman.

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Overseeing a 45 million dollar budget and overseeing 75 percent of the department, he was still able to memorize everyone’s name.

“When you look at Chief Williams, you have to think about three things: his character, his integrity and faith,” Police Chief Anthony Holloway. “He kept all three of those in place for 32 years.”

Chief Holloway mentioned how each Christmas and Thanksgiving Williams would leave his family to conduct roll call and to speak to the officer, letting them know he appreciated them for working the holiday.  He also wrote each of them personal thank you notes.

Outside of the police station, Williams has worked tirelessly to help guide the youth of St. Pete. In 2011, he and Irby helped to start the Write Field Program at the Poynter Institute. This program mentored young African-African men exposing them to writing skills, public speaking and critical thinking.

Now, Williams and Irby have created the Men in the Making program, which is a progressive initiative focusing on role modeling and life skills to increase minority male success ages 8-18, from the cradle to college.

This intervention-based program creates opportunities for hundreds of children living in an environment where 80 percent come from single parent homes.

“One of things that impress me about Chief Williams is his concern and attention for the kids of this community,” said Mayor Kriseman.

Williams, 54, is not riding off into the sunset just yet. He will continue to sit on a number of boards and today, March 1, he starts a new career as the chief of Pinellas County Schools Police.

“I know we are looking at a really, really dynamic time in our history right now, but I can guarantee that you we are going to make sure our kids are safe, that our facilities are safe and our students are safe along with the administrators,” said Williams.

Williams thanked his family for being with him every step of the way. He said when he joined the police department his family didn’t understand the gravity of living their lives in a fish bowl.

“I chose to get that fish bowl, but they had to get in with me,” he said. “I just want to thank you all for being great family members. Thank you for being great family members and staying out of the papers for bad reasons.”

Mayor Kriseman presented Williams with a key to the city, Commissioners Welch, Pat Gerard and Charlie Justice gave him a Key to the County and President & CEO Watson Haynes presented him with the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Empowerment Community Award.

Haynes said anytime challenges arose in the community, Williams would get on the phone and brief community leaders on sensitive situations.

“That’s why this community has been so safe with challenges because he was proactive enough to get to the leadership in the community,” said Haynes. “You wouldn’t believe the number of calls we’ve had to handle.”

Pattye L. Sawyer was also honored for her work with the PCUL. For the past four years, she served in numerous positions with the organization and now will serve on Habitat for Humanity Pinellas’ six-person executive team.

“I’m called to serve,” said Sawyer. “I knew that it was time for me to do something where I knew every day I was making a difference… Now I have the opportunity to help shepherd people from just a dream or a glimmer in their eye of homeownership to actually walking them through that process where they become homeowners.”

For more information on PCUL, please log on to ul-pinellas.iamempowered.com.

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