Police Chief Pat Bazemore started her law enforcement career 29 years ago in Cary, hoping to one day become a crime scene investigator.
“Before CSI was popular,” she said, referring to the CBS TV series.
On Tuesday, Bazemore, 53, announced she is retiring July 31 after climbing through the department’s ranks to become its first woman police chief and leading the town in 2013 to its first designation as the safest mid-sized city in the country.
Bazemore joined the department as a patrol officer in 1986 shortly after earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Wake Tech Community College. Cary hired her as chief in 2008 after she had served as the town’s first first female lieutenant, captain, major and deputy chief.
Cary councilman Don Frantz, who joined the council a year before Bazemore became chief, described her as a “wonderful public servant” who lived up to the community’s high expectations.
“She handles herself very well in public,” Frantz said. “She’s a great listener and problem solver.”
If someone calls her with a problem, he said, “She gets on it ASAP. She’s very responsive.”
Bazemore said she started thinking about retiring about 15 months ago after Cary’s Deputy Police Chief Barry Nickalson retired. She had promoted him, and her friend’s retirement prompted her to consider her own future.
In an interview Tuesday, Bazemore said she wants to spend more time with her family, travel – she plans to spend a couple weeks at North Carolina’s beaches this summer – and continue her role as a mentor to some of the area’s aspiring law enforcement officers.
“I’m so appreciative of the people that work in our department, the council, staff and our (Citizens Assisting Police) team for their support,” she said. CAP is a volunteer group that helps the department where needed.
Bazemore, a Wendell native, said she ditched her plans to become a crime scene investigator soon after joining Cary’s force. She found it rewarding to push the DARE anti-drug use initiative and learn something new every day while getting to know the residents she swore to protect.
Cary had about 36 officers and 32,000 residents who lived across 26 square miles when Bazemore joined the department in 1986. She now manages 194 officers who patrol more than 58 square miles to protect more than 153,000 residents in a town that stretches into Chatham County.
Cary is often listed in national publications as one of the best places to live and raise a family, and the town’s low crime rates often are cited as one of the reasons why.
“She was a public servant completely dedicated to the people of this town,” said Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. “She spent 29 years putting her life on the line so we can be safe.”
The town usually has low rates of violent crime for towns of its size. In 2013, it claimed the title of safest city of its size based on crime data from 2012 analyzed by the FBI.
Weinbrecht said Bazemore initiated several community-policing programs to keep the town safe, including geopolicing, where the town is divided up by districts with an emphasis on resident engagement, and Project Phoenix, which is geared toward keeping drug activity out of apartment complexes.
The town has had 15 homicides since 2005. Only two of those – the second one last month – were considered “random” by Cary police, meaning the suspect and victim didn’t know each other, according to statistics provided by the department.
The town’s most high-profile murder case in recent years occurred shortly after Bazemore’s promotion to chief. Brad Cooper reported that his wife Nancy went missing on July 12, 2008, and Cary police arrested him nearly four months later.
Cooper ultimately worked out a plea deal and admitted to killing the mother of his two children, but not before the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned a guilty verdict and defense attorneys criticized the Cary police investigation.
Without getting into specifics of the Cooper case, Bazemore on Tuesday described it as “one of the most complex we’ve had” and praised her officers for their work and attitude as the department endured some “negative publicity.”
“They handled (the case) with extreme professionalism,” she said.
Bazemore said she has tried to build a department that used good communication skills to prevent crime, respond to crime and show compassion for victims.
She said Cary police often collaborate with the town’s planning department in an effort to design the safest town possible.
The department also expanded its cyber crime unit to crack down on crimes against children since Bazemore took the reigns. She used the word “compassionate” several times during the interview to describe how her officers try to operate.
“Once you’ve been a victim of a crime, it changes who you are,” she said.
Ben Shivar, Cary’s town manager, said in a statement that Bazemore deserves much of the credit for the town’s reputation as one of the best and safest places to live.
“Pat has been exemplary as she’s helped guide us through some of Cary’s toughest and most tragic situations, and I am personally grateful for the professional and thoughtful ways she’s served,” he wrote.
A search for Bazemore’s replacement is underway, and the town hopes to hire someone later this summer, the statement said.