As town clerk Erin Hudson guided Patrice Andrews through the ceremonial oath of office Thursday, the new police chief had to compose herself before repeating the first few lines.
Andrews, in her speech following the oath, thanked her colleagues and family, including her grandmother, who passed away two years ago from the day of the ceremony, for everything they had done to help her become police chief. But she also clearly felt the gravity of her personal accomplishments – those of a relatively young officer who became the first black woman chosen to lead the fast-growing town’s police department.
“As I stand here today, I can’t believe I was the same girl from Chapel Hill many years ago, the same girl who, at 22, took a risk and responded to an ad in the paper – when you could actually open the paper and read it – seeking Durham police applicants,” said Andrews, 42. “But I realize I’m not that same girl. I stand before you a woman that’s had many experiences, learned many lessons and risen through the ranks to be where I am today, and I deserve every bit of it.”
The former captain with Durham’s police department was announced in April as Morrisville’s next chief of police. Andrews began work June 6 and took her official oath in private June 7.
“This is more just for pomp and circumstance,” Andrews said of Thursday’s ceremony, which began with a bagpipe-and-drum performance by the Morrisville Honor Guard.
She took over from interim Police Chief Felicia Sykes, a captain with the Morrisville Police Department who assumed the chief’s duties when Ira Jones retired last year after being chief for 11 years. Sykes was awarded the department’s Officer of the Year award earlier this month for her work as interim chief.
Andrews’ family and friends alone took up about a quarter of the available seats in the Morrisville Town Hall chambers, where the ceremony took place. She was joined on stage by her husband, Chris Andrews, a corporal with the Durham Police Department.
The crowd appeared to approach or exceed the capacity prescribed by the chamber’s fire code, in part because of the dozens of area fire and police officers who had come to Town Hall to see Andrews sworn in.
“The strength of your service is shown by the number of officers who attended today,” Councilman Satish Garimella said. “That really speaks well of you.”
Mayor Mark Stohlman addressed some of those officers in his remarks, especially Andrews’ former colleagues from the Durham Police Department.
“I had the honor of talking today with your former boss, Durham Mayor Bill Bell,” Stohlman said. “We always have friendly rivalries, and I told him, ‘I think I got you on this one.’ ”
Andrews has highlighted community and data-driven policing as her primary focuses as she begins work in Morrisville. She’s also taking over a police department that’s set to add new officers this upcoming fiscal year for the first time since 2008, thanks in part to lobbying efforts by Town Manager Martha Paige during this most recent budget cycle.
“Any time a community is growing as quickly as Morrisville is, your police department needs to be keeping up with that growth,” Andrews said. “You definitely don’t want to overpolice, but ... adding more resources gives officers more opportunity to grow. You can reorganize your departments, you can add ranks. I do share those concerns, but the fact that the town manager recognizes that, as well as the council, goes a long way to helping me transition and plan for the future.”
Andrews and her family will move into a rental property in Cary before purchasing a home in Morrisville next year, a decision Andrews said she wanted to delay until she’s settled into her new job.
Official remarks ended with the belated arrival of Councilman Michael Schlink, whose words of welcome were particularly apt given what will perhaps be Andrews’ greatest challenge:
“Sorry,” he said. “Got caught in traffic.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan