Craig Garris has announced his retirement as the Wilkesboro police chief, effective Oct. 1, after serving as chief since December 2015.
His successor will likely come from within the town’s police department, according to Town Manager Ken Noland. “I will be posting an internal candidate search for chief; I don’t expect any need to go external,” said Noland during a town council work session at the Wilkesboro Civic Center on July 13.
Noland added, “Council has asked for an (internal) succession in all our departments over the years, and we feel confident we have that in the police department, too. There’s three guys over there who are high up enough to apply” for chief.
Noland also announced on July 13 that Capt. Tommy Rhodes had been promoted to major, which means he’s the department’s second-in-command.
Garris, 53, was sworn in as Wilkesboro police chief in December 2015, replacing the retiring Robert Bowlin.
He is a 29-year veteran of the Wilkesboro Police Department. Prior, he served two years and seven months with the North Wilkesboro Police Department.
Before being named chief, Garris served as interim chief for 90 days and as deputy chief from May 2014 to December 2015. Wilkesboro has not had a deputy chief since Garris was named chief.
A native of Traphill, Garris has been with the Wilkesboro Police Department since February 1990. He worked as a patrol officer for more than 11 years at the start of his career. He was promoted to sergeant in 2001 and to lieutenant in 2007.
Garris was over the patrol division until 2009, when he became the investigative division manager. He served in that role until 2011, when he returned to the patrol division and was promoted to captain.
He was promoted to the rank of major in 2014.
Garris is a 1986 graduate of North Wilkes High School. He graduated from basic law enforcement training at Wilkes Community College in 1989 and holds a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice from Gardner-Webb University.
In an interview last week, Garris said he plans to travel as much as possible when he retires. “I will see where the road takes me, but I have completed my law enforcement career.”
Garris said that of the many goals and ideas he’s implemented in Wilkesboro for public safety, the core one is “that people should feel that we have performed our duties with respectful service. It’s been my goal that we have helped them in some way, big or small and each day we are making a difference. I am happy that we have accomplished that over the last six-plus years and I’m sure that we have in place the personnel to continue that success.”
As the head of a 22-person force, Garris said that the personnel under him “bring skill sets that are just amazing. We have a knowledgeable traffic crash reconstruction team, a well-equipped special response team, a K9 team, bicycle patrolling, making charitable efforts, experienced and trained investigators and strive toward staying ahead of trends in our profession.”
Garris said that due to the support of Noland, the town council and Mayor Mike Inscore, “We have great equipment and always are looking for better ways to do things through training and best practices. I wanted us to be a very comprehensive department within our community that addresses quality of life issues—not just enforcing the law and responding to calls—and I think we’ve done that.”
Concerning his replacement, he said, “I feel it is very important for any agency, company, or entity to always look within for the next leader and prepare all employees to look for taking on extra responsibility. I am confident that we have people in place to keep Wilkesboro a safe and great place to live, as they are dedicated to our mission.”
Reflecting on the people who have helped him in his law enforcement career, Garris said, “I wouldn’t be where I am today, first and foremost, if it wasn’t for the support of my wife, Donna, of almost 32 years as my schedule included lots of nights, holidays and weekends for a long time.”
Garris said his father, Jerry Garris, was a Wilkes deputy and later retired from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. “I wanted to follow his career path, so I owe a lot to him. My mother, Linda, instilled in me the qualities and ethics to do the job.”
He thanked Gary Parsons, Barry Brown and Robert Bowlin as the chiefs who hired him and influenced his career. The Wilkesboro police staff “have always supported me and that is reciprocal, and that is so very important to actually enjoy your work.”
Garris continued, “There are so many educators and mentors I can’t list them all, but I have been very blessed to have grown up here and worked the job that I was born to do.”
He also acknowledged the people of Wilkesboro and Wilkes County “for supporting the job that we do and realizing that it’s an imperfect world, but law enforcement are out here doing our best to make it a better place to live in.”
Garris concluded, “The police are the public and the public are the police, and without that type of support, that community is a place you don’t want to live in. Wilkes is a great place to live.”