JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — 29-year Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) veteran Bill Church is the city’s new permanent chief and says he’ll focus on a proactive community policing approach to tackle some of the city’s most vexing issues.
“As we build our ranks, we will prioritize a community policing approach to help proactively tackle challenges such as drugs and homelessness,” Church said. “Through community partnerships, additional resources and innovative strategies, we will work tirelessly to keep Johnson City safe.”
With a couple dozen JCPD officers in attendance, City Manager Cathy Ball announced the news in city commission chambers nearly three months to the day after Church was named interim chief following Karl Turner’s retirement. Turner served as chief from February 2018 to February 2023.
Ball said her 18 months as city manager have shown her how important community safety is to the city’s overall success.
“The ability to put someone in a role who could supervise a department that keeps us safe every day, that looks over people, that has a caring heart, is a real honor,” Ball said.
Church told News Channel 11 that he intends to tackle major issues with the help of different agencies and departments within the city and in doing so, finding and correcting the root of problems.
A Washington County native and Marine Corps veteran, Church has served as an entry-level public safety officer, a criminal investigator, a sergeant and a lieutenant. He was also captain of the department’s Platoon 3 and was most recently promoted to operations major in June 2022. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bethel University, is a graduate of the Southeast Command and Leadership Academy and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy, and has completed training and seminars in law enforcement leadership.
Church said one of his first orders of business will be filling several high-level administrative positions including deputy chief, operations major and administrative major. That team will then assess for ranks of captain, lieutenant and sergeant in a department that, like most, is struggling to fill all open positions.
“We will continue our efforts to recruit officers who will uphold the standards of the Johnson City Police Department,” Church said. He said investments will come in better uniforms, equipment and body cameras.
“We need more investigators. We need more in our SIS with our Special Investigation squad to combat drugs,” Church said. “When those come up, you’re gonna have a better chance at stopping it, but it’s it’s a nationwide problem. It is rampant here in this area.”
Mayor Todd Fowler said Church is highly respected by fellow JCPD staff.
“I think they are happy that we had an internal person come up that they respect and that they work with, that they’re ready to go to battle with if they need to,” Fowler said. “It’s great to have that kind of respect in the police department for the person that just got put in person that just got put in charge.”
Fowler said Church was the best person to carry out city leadership’s plans for a safer Johnson City.
“He is a compassionate person, which is excellent to have in a police chief,” Fowler said. “We gave them our direction, which was we need to work on homelessness, we need to stop the drug trafficking however we can do that, and so they are putting together a plan of action for that. And we’re planning on him doing a great job with that.”
Church also said under his leadership, the city will resume a dormant relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, allowing the JCPD to partner with a special prosecutor for select drug and weapons cases. He said having someone who can prosecute at the federal level can work as a deterrent for criminals who may otherwise have no fear of punishment.
In 2022, a lawsuit was filed against the JCPD and some individuals within the department by the previous U.S. Attorney’s Office partner. That lawsuit sparked some protests in Johnson City.
Since then, citizens who protested have met with Ball, Church and other JCPD representatives. To Church, running an approachable department that gives the community a sense of safety is a must.
“I want them to think that we”re there for them, that we’re approachable,” Church said. “They need something, they call us, and I stress that to my officers. Compassion, you have to have that; there’s people in positions that you don’t know what that reason is, you know, and if you can just talk to them and get to know what that reason is, you might be able to help them with that.”