Pinellas County Schools Police Chief Makes Community Safer by Investing in Students’ Futures
As a product of the schools he serves, Chief Luke Williams’ commitment to student success is clear through his many youth-focused initiatives.
Eleven years ago, three officers with the St. Petersburg Police Department were killed in the span of 30 days. One of the officers was killed by a 17-year-old. In response, then-Assistant Police Chief Luke Williams and Reverend Kenny Irby — both of whom have significant ties to the community — met to brainstorm ways to help guide Pinellas County youth down a path that helps set them up for success (20:39).
“We asked, ‘What can we do to impact these children and make a difference so that we’re not losing officers on one hand and kids aren’t ruining their lives on the other?'” said Williams, who is now police chief at Pinellas County Schools and a 2022 Campus Safety Director of the Year finalist.
That’s how the mentoring group ‘Men in the Making’ began. According to its website, Men in the Making is a ‘progressive initiative focusing on role modeling and life skills to increase minority male success from cradle to college.’ Mentors include a major, an assistant chief, a philanthropist, a retired deputy, a corporate inclusion director, and a corporate American with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator, among others. Since 2011, more than 500 children have participated.
“Our goal is to give kids experiences or take them to experiential-type events and then have them write about it,” Williams described. “So we’re looking at it from an exposure standpoint but also academically to make sure that they get those skills.”
Experiences include dinner at an Italian restaurant where youth are taught etiquette, such as where to place a napkin and which utensils to use based on what they’re eating. They visit a veterans’ cemetery and discuss contributions and sacrifices veterans have made to the United States. Fine art museums are also attended, and some students have even been asked to become docents. Participants are also taught life skills like the Heimlich maneuver and how to tie a necktie.
“We want you to be able to tie a tie because once you learn how to do it, you got it,” continued Williams. “Just like you’re learning multiplication tables and learning the parts of a sentence and being able to write a paragraph, once they get that foundational knowledge, they always have it. So those are the types of things we try to do.”
Williams is a lifelong resident of St. Petersburg. Him, his wife, and his three children all went through Pinellas County Schools. So for him, it’s personal.
“I just want to make sure that all our kids have a fair opportunity of being able to learn in a safe environment,” he said.
Police Chief Dedicated to Student Betterment
Another student-focused initiative Williams is particularly proud of is the distribution of foldable duffle bags to foster children who attend Pinellas County Schools. Oftentimes, when children are moved between foster homes, they have to put all of their personal belongings in garbage bags (28:11).
Williams approached the Pinellas Police Standards Council with the issue and requested funding for the bags. With the group’s support, Williams was able to secure the funds and purchase nearly 3,000 bags. The program, called ‘Tiny Totes,’ provides students with duffle bags in addition to totes filled with toiletries and other basic needs.
“We distributed those out to the different agencies so when they get into those situations, they are able to give that to the students and able to help them get through that transition,” said Williams. “Trying to add a little dignity to a difficult situation for our kids.”
Through the many submissions from colleagues who nominated Williams for Director of the Year, it’s clear that he puts students’ well-being above anything else.
“Always have time to talk with a child and to try and help them through whatever issue they’re having,” Williams said. “My goal and my desire is that through the uniqueness of my position and the agency that I have, I’m able to select people who have a similar mindset: they really care about children, they care about the future, and they will do whatever they can to help them and to guide them.”
Williams also spoke to other impressive initiatives he has led in his short time as police chief, including:
- How he has successfully and impactfully conveyed law enforcement’s role within the school system to the community served (2:05)
- How he partnered with local police chiefs and the Pinellas Sheriff to create a collaborative agreement following the murder of George Floyd (9:43)
- Ways he has continuously worked to improve officer morale, tailoring it to each individual’s perception of what “morale” entails (14:06)