The baton will soon be passed in Clayton, the police baton. After a law enforcement career spanning more than three decades, Clayton Police Chief Wayne Bridges announced last week that he’ll retire at the end of April.
Bridges joined Clayton’s police force from the Raleigh Police Department in 1998 and worked his way up through the ranks, ultimately to chief four years ago.
“It’s been a real honor to be able to come here and rise through the ranks and excel,” Bridges said of his time in Clayton.
Bridges succeeded former chief Glen Allen as Clayton’s top cop after Allen left to head up the State Capital Police in 2013. In his time in Clayton, Bridges led an effort to add a tactical team to the town’s police department. He said one of his proudest accomplishments was getting increasingly higher accreditation levels, eventually earning a Gold Standard from the police accreditation agency CALEA, putting the department among the top agencies in North Carolina.
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Above all, though, Bridges said he valued the connection he feels his department has made with the community.
“We’ve done a lot of things hand in hand with the community; we’ve built relationships that are very strong,” Bridges said. “It seems like we’ve been able to do that more and more even while the town has grown as much as it has, when it’s usually the opposite.”
Bridges grew up in Washington in Eastern North Carolina and came to a law enforcement career after four years in the Army as an air traffic control operator. After his military service, he said he looked for something that matched that level of public service and was drawn to law enforcement.
“I was just looking for something that would be considered meaningful,” Bridges said. “Obviously having a military background, I was comfortable in that atmosphere. There’s a great deal of meaning and purpose in law enforcement. ... I just like it; it’s a profession that’s honorable, that gives you purpose and allows you to go home knowing you’ve done something.”
In 1998, after a decade in Raleigh, running call after call, Bridges applied for a job in Clayton for a change of pace. He saw things slow down, but said he was somewhat surprised at the high level of police work in such a small town.
“It really wasn’t that different from Raleigh,” Bridges said. “I remember the first serious crime I worked, I was extremely impressed. To be fair, I was very surprised and impressed by how professional the officers were.”
Clayton, of course, isn’t the same town it was 20 years ago. Bridges said nights were typically dead quiet when he first came to Clayton, but now he said his officers stay pretty busy. Despite thousands of new people moving in, Bridges said the department has worked to keep that small-town identity.
“Clayton just has that small-town feel,” Bridges said. “There are some big-town problems, but in growing, we’re somehow able to retain that small-town atmosphere. Policing in Clayton, you can actually meet people and converse. In a bigger town that may not happen at all as you’re running call after call.”
With more than 30 years, Bridges said he’s actually overdue for retirement, but knew he wanted to leave the job now as his wife battles breast cancer. He said they’re going to tend the 50-acre farm that once belonged to his great-great-grandfather and split their time between there and the coast.
“Her illness brings to mind the most important things in life,” Bridge said. “I’ve always considered this job extremely important, but at the end of the day, family is what really matters.”
Clayton posted the police chief vacancy late last month and will receive applications until Feb. 24. The town has an $18,000 contract with Development Associates to help with the search, the same recruiting firm used in the search for town manager last year.