'What I was born to do' | Winston-Salem police chief reflects on upcoming retirement

Chief Catrina Thompson has served on the Winston-Salem Police Department since 1994 and became chief in 2017. She plans to retire in December.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Winston-Salem’s police chief is reflecting on her career as she plans to retire from the department in December after nearly 30 years on the force.

“This is home for me,” said Chief Catrina Thompson. “This is where I’m comfortable. This is a city that I love and so it’s bittersweet.”

Originally from Detroit, MI., Thompson said she never planned to be a police officer at all. 

“I started out in computer engineering and then quickly realized I like being around people,” Thompson said.

It wasn’t until she heard a seminar from an Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco enforcement agent at Wayne State University, her alma mater, that she decided to switch her major to criminal justice. She still wanted to become a federal agent, but the testing process was closed at the time so she was advised to go the local police route. 

“Winston-Salem was the first agency that contacted me and was basically persistent about me joining,” said Thompson. “I ended up coming on with Winston with the idea that I’ll do this for about three or four years and then I’ll get me a real job with the feds. It didn’t take me long to realize after I got here with the Winston Salem Police Department that I had a real job.”

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Thompson joined WSPD in 1994 and was promoted to senior police offer (today’s rank of corporal) in 1998, then Seargent in 2003, lieutenant in 2006, a captain in 2014, and assistant police chief in 2016.

“Becoming chief wasn’t even a thought for me until I made captain and once I became captain (…) and had the opportunity to be exposed to other aspects of the organization and not just policing, understanding that policing is just a piece of the overall local government pie here in Winston-Salem, that kind of really piqued my interest.”

As chief, Thompson said one of her biggest accomplishments is having the department’s law enforcement, communications center, and training academy all accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). According to Thompson, WSPD is the first department in the state to receive all three and one of only 24 departments in the entire country. 

However, Thompson said she would have liked to spend more time with the youth in the community. 

“I reflect on my own life and realize that as a child there were adults that passed and crossed my path at different points in my growing up that had a real impact in a positive manner on my life,” said Thompson. “I believe in paying it forward and I believe that is absolutely my obligation to be that person or those people to youth in our community.”

Thompson will retire in December and said she hopes she can stay in law enforcement but has a variety of opportunities available including in law enforcement, the non-profit sector, and state government. 

“I plan to take a deep breath but I still have a lot of gas in the tank and I’m certainly not ready to sit down,” Thompson said.

The City of Winston-Salem is hiring an executive search team to do a nationwide search for Thompson’s successor. 

“I certainly hope that my successor will be able to continue to capitalize on the talents of the women and men here in this agency and use those talents to move us forward along with the partnerships,” Thompson said. “I think it’s extremely important that we have an open dialogue, open communication with our community, and, to me, that’s where the difference is made.”

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