Chapel Hill Chief of Police Chris Blue exudes pride for his police department. Despite years of Silent Sam demonstrations, a tense political climate nationwide and changing expectations of police, Blue seems to have taken it all in stride.
“I think my goals are oftentimes the result of what’s going on in the world,” he said. “But it’s always a goal to keep Chapel Hill safe.”
Having grown up in Chapel Hill and served over 20 years at the Chapel Hill Police Department and nearly a decade as police chief, Blue is almost like a Chapel Hill fixture. His journey to the police force, however, was far from direct.
After graduating from UNC in 1990 with a degree in radio, television and motion pictures, Blue thought he would move to New York or Los Angeles and become a TV producer, but after several years in sales and the restaurant industry, Blue said his plans changed.
“I wanted to do something here and something that had a little more opportunity for growth and development,” he said.
Ever since his career in law enforcement began, Blue said he has had to remain flexible. With technology allowing access to real-time information and analysis of police work, as well as a more aware and involved public, he said police work has changed immensely in recent decades.
“Whether it’s people streaming an interaction or police body cams, more involvement makes for smart, thoughtful, nimble policing,” Blue said.
Blue said Chapel Hill has been on the forefront of progressive policing for many years as a town, including in domestic violence and sexual assault policies. This drive toward progress has required new skills for officers, but Blue said this is a rewarding part of the job.
“There’s some pride in knowing you’re going to develop a wide range of skills,” he said.
Despite this pride, Blue pointed to a national problem in recruiting and maintaining new law enforcement officers and said this has been a major goal for him as chief. Blue said hiring, training and developing officers is a challenge, but one he’s passionate about. He said this goal goes hand-in-hand with his work on the police force by making Chapel Hill an attractive place to live and work.
Another part of this goal, Blue said, must include diversifying the police force across the nation.
“We have special police officers in Chapel Hill, and we have to look like the community we serve,” he said.
Amid the Silent Sam controversy of the last several years, Blue said Chapel Hill has become a prime example of the changing environment of police work across the nation.
He acknowledged that demonstrators have not always been pleased with police presence at protests in the past, but Blue said the officers have thick skin.
“Ultimately, officers take an oath to defend the Constitution, to help people’s voices be heard, even when those chants are directed at us,” he said. “I am very proud of how our officers responded. Very proud.”
During those protests, Blue said the Chapel Hill Police Department worked closely with the UNC Police Department, and he has a close personal relationship with both Chief Jeff McCracken of the UNC Police Department and Chief Walter Horton of the Carrboro Police Department.
Despite their different jurisdictions, Blue emphasized that all three departments work together frequently, including at events like Halloween on Franklin Street and at UNC sports events.
“Leading a police department is tough anywhere,” he said. “But it’s an honor.”
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