Henderson's Sidwell will retire as police chief May 31

May. 03, 2013 @ 08:55 PM

With the crime rate down, his department fully staffed and a desire to relinquish full-time working status, Keith Sidwell has announced his retirement as police chief in the City of Henderson.

Sidwell turned in a written notice to Ray Griffin Thursday, and the city manager made the announcement Friday morning as Sidwell began to inform his staff.

His last day is May 31. Griffin said he would soon name an interim chief and develop a strategy for recruitment of the department’s next leader.

“It’s important for me that the citizens here know, this department is if not the most professional, one of the most professional agencies in North Carolina,” Sidwell said. “And these men and women are highly trained.

“We have excellent leadership in place here with our sergeants, our lieutenants and our captains. The next chief coming in, he or she should have a very smooth transition. And, that was my goal, to make sure that it ran smoothly. I think we’ve accomplished that.”

Sidwell said he pondered such a move for about a year. His children are through school, his confidence in the department leadership is high and he reasoned that made it “the appropriate time.”

The chief said he has offers to teach and will likely pursue them on a part-time basis.

An effort to reach Pete O’Geary, the Henderson mayor, for comment were unsuccessful.

Griffin, his supervisor, said Henderson has lost one of the best.

“I believe in him. I think the world of him,” Griffin said. “He has worked so good to make a positive difference in this community. He has done so selflessly, he has done so often times amid criticism, but he kept his focus on where he needed to go.”

Sidwell’s accomplishments are voluminous.

Since his arrival in January of 2007, the department has collected about $5.8 million in asset forfeiture money. Because of that, the city bore no expense for all marked and unmarked cars in the current fleet; furniture and office upgrades have been done within the building on Breckenridge Street; a bike patrol was restarted; and a K-9 unit is now in place.

In addition, he led the department into redistricting, from five to four to match the wards; saw the Community Watch groups increase from nine to 34; started Business Watch; partnered with Crime Stoppers to start Church Watch; and transitioned his department into new firearms.

He also partnered with state lawmakers on legislation against repeat criminals.

For citizens, the crime rate has decreased and more than 60 of what are commonly known as “career criminals” have been removed from the streets and put into the federal prison system. Sidwell said another 20 are likely to be gone before the end of the year.

Coactive policing is present throughout the city.

“The crime rate, through his partnerships, has gone down for three years running with 2012 being the latest year of data,” Griffin said. “When I first got here in 2008, crime was the big thing on everybody’s mind. When we had our strategic planning retreat this last time, it wasn’t hardly discussed. There were issues of greater concern, such as job creation, and other things because he has helped bring that into that position.

“His efforts and partnerships with federal and state officials to deal with career criminals, I think it’s been unprecedented in this town in getting about 60-some criminals off the streets and into the federal pen. And, that’s got to have a direct correlation with our reduction in crime. Because, the federal pen doesn’t have a revolving door.”

His employees, previously paid about 26 percent below fair market value and with high turnover rates, saw their salaries increase through a reclassification.

The department is now fully staffed with a waiting list.

“Every agency within a 30-mile radius was paying more,” Sidwell said.

Sidwell, hired at a salary of $66,000, departs at a salary of $72,495. He got no pay raise in the reclassification, and has not had a merit raise since Griffin arrived in 2008.

Sidwell spent his first 25 years in law enforcement in Roanoke, Va., where he retired before taking the Henderson post. He started as a patrolman, and advanced as a motorcycle policeman; fatality investigator; detective handling crimes against juveniles and sex crimes; was in charge of a K-9 unit; SWAT team commander; academy director; zone commander; and interim captain of uniform patrol.

He oversaw 188 officers before his first retirement.

“Keith is absolutely the best chief I’ve worked with, and I’ve worked with a lot of them over the past 30-some years,” Griffin said. “The expectation he set was I’m here to enforce the law, reduce crime and help make this community a safer and better place. And he has done that. And he has done so in exemplary manner.”

“I’m grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had here,” Sidwell said. “I think we’ve accomplished a lot as an agency, and we’ve accomplished a lot with our citizens.”

 

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.