On June 6, Chapel Hill Police Chief and Executive Director for Community Safety Chris Blue announced that he will retire on Dec. 31, 2022. Summer City & State Editor Sarah Choi spoke with Blue about his 25-year career with the Chapel Hill Police Department. Blue began serving as a patrol officer in November 1997 and was appointed chief of police in December 2010.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Daily Tar Heel: When did you first know that you wanted to be a police officer?
Chris Blue: A friend of mine and I were working together in a restaurant over in Durham, and both of us had fairly recently graduated from college and were still trying to figure out what we were going to do with ourselves. One day we just met with each other and said, "you know, we could try being police officers," and we applied the next day. He actually got hired right away. I didn't get hired right away. It took me another year and a half or so, two years really, to get hired. We both applied in Chapel Hill, and all these years later, here we are. He just retired about this time last year, and I'm retiring end of this year, so the moral of the story is you never know where your life is going to take you. I entered into it on a whim, almost. Turned out to be a fantastic career.
DTH: Did you know that you wanted to be the police chief from the beginning?
CB: No, absolutely not. I loved being a patrol officer and really thought that would be a dream job for me for my entire career. While I was out as a patrol officer, I enjoyed interacting with the community – solving problems. When people call 911, we hope that's what we're able to help them do. But, after you do the job for a couple of years, you realize "I might be able to provide a little leadership," or influence things a little bit more if I moved into a supervisory position. Before you know it, you find your way moving up the ladder, and I've been very, very fortunate.
DTH: How do you think you influenced the police force during your time with them?
CB: This is a special department. It's always been a little ahead of the curve in terms of innovations and policing practices and policies. Long before I got here, that was station culture. What I would say is that this is my hometown. I think I brought to the organization, because of my strong connection to Chapel Hill, a real focus on community engagement and communication and transparency trying very hard to meet the interests of this specific community.
DTH: What were some of the biggest investigations or cases you worked on during your time with the police force?
CB: If you stay with any police department for an extended period of time, you're going to see some really sad things and some really uplifting and exciting things. I think the things that stick with you the most when you're policing in a college town are those things that affect college students, and in my time here, unfortunately, we've had some serious cases involving UNC students, including some murders. Those have a particular impact because parents from all around the world send their young people here to learn, be educated, to grow, and part of my responsibilities is keeping this a safe place where they can do those things. So when a tragedy befalls a student here, that's particularly troubling and motivating for us as a police department. Sadly, that's happened a few times over the years in the time I've been here, including as my time as police chief.
DTH: What were some of those serious cases involving UNC students?
CB: I wasn't chief at the time, but Eve Carson was killed during my career, as were Deah Barakat and Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha, as was Faith Hedgepeth. I'm certainly saddened by all of those events and also very much aware of the unique impacts and community repercussions of each of those tragic cases.
DTH: What were the lessons that you learned from those difficult cases?
CB: I think, and increasingly over the years in policing professions, that we really have to be well-connected to the communities we serve. In each of those cases, I think we learned things, different things from each about how we share information in our community, about how to keep our community updated on the status of those cases. I think every time you have a tragic case, you learn something from it, and those three were no exception.
DTH: What achievements are you proudest of?
CB: I am unbelievably proud of the comprehensive, compassionate, human-focused style of policing that we have here in Chapel Hill. Proud of those employees, those officers, who are delivering a level of police service that is, I think, second to none in our state, really, all over the U.S. I'm very proud being a part of that. I didn't create that, I'm just a part of it. I'm also very proud of the fact that we regularly run police academies here in our department and graduate excellent young law enforcement professionals who are coming into the profession at a time when it — more than ever — needs good, motivated, smart, adaptable people. And when we can put them through our academy and not only teach them how to be a police officer but more specifically how to be a good Chapel Hill police officer, that is particularly satisfying because it takes a special person to do the kind of policing we do here in this community.
DTH: Do you have any advice for those looking to enter the police force themselves or any general life advice?
CB: My advice is to enjoy every minute of it. Be present for every call for service that you respond to. For you, it may be routine. But for that person who called you for help, they may have never experienced that before, hopefully never had to call. The feeling you leave them with will very much inform how they feel about your organization and maybe police officers everywhere, maybe for the rest of their lives. That's a huge responsibility to have, but it's also the price of admission into our profession. It's knowing that your responsibility is for more than just you. You represent something that's very, very important and so take that seriously. Honor that and be sure to protect that because our profession relies on integrity and trust and respect – and we should all defend that at all costs.
DTH: Looking back at your career, would you change anything, if anything at all?
CB: Oh, I don't think so.
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