WILLIAMSTON – Bob Young started his last day as a small-town police chief the same way he began the job – interacting with the community.
On Monday morning, Young dropped by St. Mary Catholic School, where elementary students wanted to recognize their police and fire chiefs for the important work they do. New police Chief Jim Wolf was there to introduce himself, too.
“It’s amazing after 11 years how many people you have contact with in this job,” Young said Friday after a steady stream of business owners, city officials and other community members had dropped by to wish him well during a socially distanced open house. “They were the key community leaders who helped in the success of a good police department. That’s where the success came from.”
Hanging out with elementary school kids was a fitting send-off for Young, who In 2010 rode into town on a bicycle and found himself part of the city’s Memorial Day Parade.
He went there to see how city police were working the event and hadn’t officially started as chief. But the mayor spotted him and insisted he join the parade.
It was mostly downhill from there for Young, now 66, who was often seen riding around town on his bicycle – the same one he used to patrol Mackinac Island during the 1980s while he was with the Michigan State Police.
“That’s probably the biggest thing in my success was getting out on a bike and talking to people,” he said. “I did that right up until the end.”
City Manager Corey Schmidt said Young built relationships with all of the key entities in town.
“As I said to the City County the other night, I don’t know that I’ve ever worked with somebody who has the respect of so many stakeholders – the council, city staff, community members, school district staff and the service organizations that mean so much to us – as Bob Young,” Schmidt said.
“I can’t say enough about how well-respected he is throughout the community.”
‘Not everybody wanted me to be chief’
Young became Williamston’s police chief in June 2010, shortly after retiring as a lieutenant from the state police.
His 33-year MSP career included stints as a trooper, undercover narcotics investigator and field services specialist, among others roles.
A graduate of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Young also spent parts of the last two decades training local police officials whose agencies can’t afford to send them to the FBI Academy.
Early on, Young survived a politically volatile time in the city of about 4,000 people in eastern Ingham County and built strong community support.
“Not everybody wanted me to be chief, and they were very vocal about it,” he said. “I was fortunate to navigate all that, and some good things happened early on.”
The normally quiet town had a handful of notable cases during his tenure, including a tragedy at Williamston High School in 2011 in which a locker room wall collapsed, killing a 14-year-old boy and bringing a flood of media attention to the city.
In 2012, Williamston police played a key role in cracking a home burglary ring perpetrated by heroin addicts. Police solved at least 15 cases, including many where the suspects had slipped unnoticed into unlocked homes, garages or barns and stolen one or two valuable items they could pawn right away.
The following year, an employee at a Williamston-based mortgage firm pleaded guilty in an identity fraud case involving clients of the brokerage.
In 2015, a Williamston High School teacher was sentenced to jail and probation after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography.
Young also oversaw the police department’s move a few years ago from makeshift quarters to its own building downtown.
“That was huge,” Schmidt said.
New chief’s credentials ‘jumped off the page’
The Williamston force now has six full-time officers, plus the chief and an administrative assistant.
Wolf was chosen as the next chief after a process that included input from a panel of community and business leaders, Schmidt said. Wolf emerged as the best candidate during two rounds of interviews, he said.
Wolf recently retired as an inspector after 31 years with the state police and signed on as a volunteer reserve officer for the city.
“His credentials, his breadth of experience, jumped off the page, frankly,” Schmidt said. “He joined our reserves and he had some familiarity with the community. He also is a Williamston High grad, and that carries some weight.”
Schmidt said officials were looking for someone who was motivated to bond with the community in the same fashion as Young.
“There are big shoes to fill with Bob leaving, and some of the things that made Bob a leader was his ability to get out in the community and form relationships,” he said. “That was something we felt Jim Wolf brought to the table.”
As for Young, he doesn’t have any immediate plans.
“I just knew in my heart it was time for me to go, even though I liked it and I still love the city,” he said. “We have a very good department; the officers do a bang-up job. We get lots of support. And because of that partnership, we’re able to solve cases. They talk to us in this community.”
Contact Ken Palmer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @KBPalm_lsj.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Popular, bike-riding Williamston police chief hangs up badge after nearly 11 years