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Norris breaks boundaries while serving in native city
BY CHANEL DAVIS
Patricia Norris was born to serve. Since she was
younger, she knew she would serve her community. What
she didn't know was that she would have so much fun
"I really enjoy what I do. I have an opportunity to
work with some brilliant minds, see them develop and
know that they're going to contribute to society in a posi
tive way," the alumna said as she sat in her office gazing
out the window aVWinston-Salem State University's cam
pus. "That really is a good feeling, and it makes me happy
to come to work knowing that these young kids will do
Norris, a Winston-Salem native, graduated from RJ.
Reynolds High School and earned her undergraduate
degree from Winston-Salem State University.
She is also a graduate of N.C. State University's
Administrative Officer's Management Program.
She became the chief of police for the City of
Winston-Salem in 2004 and remained in office until 2008,
serving the city for 31 years. She became the city's first
African-American chief and African-American female
In 2008, Norris joined Winston-Salem State
University as chief of police and director of public safety.
She has served on several state and local boards.
After more than 35 years of law enforcement and pub
lic safety it's surprising to know that this was not the ini
tial dream Norris had for herself.
Committed to serve
As a young teenager, Norris initially wanted to be a
nurse. "Somewhere along the way, that changed," she
said. "I had to go to the hospital and that's when I decided
maybe that's not what I want to do because you have to
put needles in people's amis, etc."
Norris said that she realized that she wanted to give
back to the community and that she could help people
without being a nurse.
The college student began working with the city of
Winston-Salem in the Traffic Engineering Department as
a summer employee.
"1 started in a summer program with traffic engineer
ing. We would go out and count the number of cars," she
said. "It was supposed to be a summer job but once I got
my foot in the door there, I was approached, asked if there
was any other place in the city that I might want to work,
and I said yes. I wanna be a police officer."
She said that at the time everyone thought she was just
a little kid and people didn't think the 21-year-old female
could do the job, especially during the time that women
were becoming more involved in law enforcement.
"There were four or five other women, and if we could
help each other we did. I formed a tighter bond with the
guys that were on my squad," she said.
She said at first the guys thought they had to protect
her until they realized she could hold her own. At that
point, that bond became closer because they knew she had
their backs as well.
"We were really like a close-knit family," Norris said.
The 30-plus-year veteran said that she can remember
the first time she questioned if this was the career path for
her. She said she was riding with her first training coach,
Tony Bowen, and they received a Code One call.
"I had never gone that fast in a car. We get to the
neighborhood I grew up in and it wasn't too far from
where I lived at the time. It was someone that I knew and
he had been cut from his ear and all the way around his
throat. The person who cut him was still in the house,"
She was given towels and told to stay with the victim
and apply pressure to the wound so he wouldn't bleed out.
While doing that she said that a man she went to school
with came up and asked what was going on. He asked to
see the cut and she told him no because she was applying
pressure. She said he told her to let him see the cut again
before he grabbed her by her shirt and flung her off the
porch like a rag doll.
"I had to jump so I wouldn't fall. I remember thinking
that that this was not supposed to happen like this. I got
up, don't say one word to him, went in the house and I
found my sergeant, Ben Johnson, and pulled on his sleeve
like a little kid and told him that man pushed me off the
porch," she said laughing.
"I learned a very valuable lesson that day. It did not
make me want to quit but to dig my heels in more to learn
more about what I should do and how I should do it. I
never had another episode like that again. Regardless as to
whether I know you or not, there is a fine line. You can't
cross that line when there is a job t6 do."
From there Norris' career took off. She worked her
way up the ranks with promotion after promotion.
Norris called the process highly competitive and seri
ous. She would go on to become a lieutenant, a captain
and end up as the assistant chief in the late '90s.
She would become the assistant chief and work over
the patrol division, where she would be exposed to a wide
range of situations. She said that it prepared her for what
was next to come: applying for the chief of police posi
When she was told that the chief position was hers,
she said she was quite humbled.
"They told me I couldn't tell anyone anything for the
next two hours," she said. "I wanted to tell my husband so
bad. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. The right factors
played together at that time. I was so thankful I had an
opportunity to be appointed."
She was sworn in as the city's 12th Chief of Police in
Her-story and history maker
Being first is not a limited concept to Norris.
Along with being the city's first African-American
chief and African-American female chief, she became the
first female and the first African-American |o serve as
president of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of
Police, an organization dedicated to the support and
encouragement for police chiefs in the state, in 2001.
One thing that constantly bothered Norris was people
contributing her success to her race or gender.
"Whenever I did get promotions, folks would say that
it was because I'm black and that I'm a female," she said.
"I would like to think that I learned something along the
way and that my intelligence helped me get there too."
Her appointment also ushered in the city's first
African-American male police chief in Barry Rountree, a
man that Norris calls "very talented." He was appointed to
the assistant police chief position during Norris' tenure.
"I saw the talent in Chief Rountree and I just wanted
to make sure that the talent had an opportunity to blos
som," she said. "He's smart, willing and ready to do the
right thing and he's also humble servant."
Rountree said that he holds a lot of respect for the per
son he worked with for several years. "I always thought
she was a professional person. She was a long-term
employee with the city and she worked her way up
through the ranks to make history in Winston-Salem to be
the first African-American police chief in the city," he
said. "She was a well-rounded police
orncer. In my opinion, she was a ri
good leader, too. During that time II
she was able to implement some L
changes in the police department that I
we are still using today."
Retirement, or not ?
Norris said she pdt in a lot of I
work at the department before she I
decided to retire, including providing |
software for identification in lineups,
securing a building for an evidence
and training facility, dash cameras in the cars and main
One thing that weighed heavily on her decision was
the death of Sergeant Howard Plouff. The 17-year veteran
was shot and killed while responding to a call for help
from off-duty sheriff's deputies after a fight broke out
inside Winston-Salem's Red Rooster Nightclub on Feb.
"It stills bothers me," she said with tears in her eyes.
"It was time to go."
When she made the announcement that she would be
retiring, she received a call from WSSU Chancellor
Donald Reaves. "He asked me out to lunch," she said.
Reaves would go on to tell her during lunch that his police
chief was about to retire and he needed someone to help
move the department forward. "He said 'you're an alum
nae of the university, and it's time for you to give back',"
she said. "He made a very compelling argument. 1 left the
city in June, was out the month of July and started here in
What does Norris think about that decision now?
"The best decision I've ever made," she said nodding
her head for emphasis. "It's great to come to work. You
meet the freshmen and they're all green. They don't know
what to do, who to be with or what to say. By the time they
get ready to graduate, they're so mature, they really do
know their place and how their going to get there. It is a
great feeling to work and see that kind of product pro
Dr. Trey Cotton, WSSU vice chancellor for student
affairs, called Norris an outstanding example to young
women everywhere to follow their dreams.
"Not only was*she the first African-American female
chief for the city, but also for WSSU. Her accomplish
ments are too many to count, but what I find most note
worthy about Chief is the fact that she is the sweetest,
kindest and most genuine person that you can meet; unless
of course you are on the wrong side of the law," he said.
"I've had a very full life. I've had exposure to some
things that other people dream of having. I would like to
say my dealings with people over the years has been good,
for the most part. Everyone is not going to be my friend
or be happy with the decision that I've made, but for the
most part, my treatment in people has been consistent,"
she said. "My goal has always been to do the right thing."
She said that she couldn't have done anything without
the support of her family, husband, children and her com
mitment to God.
April 1-April 7,2015
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