By Siobhan Callahan
Office Billy Williams rode up to Chelsea’s coffee shop, on North Trade Street, to break up a disturbance involving a homeless man well known on the street for harassing customers.
He could have arrested him and taken him to the county jail. Instead, he drove the man over to the Bethesda Center, a homeless shelter on Patterson Avenue.
This is just one story that explains how Officer Williams got the nickname “Officer Friendly.”
“Over twelve years, I have never seen a police officer so nice to people on the right and left side of the law,” said Mike Coe, the owner of Chelsea’s and other downtown businesses. “He’s not just Officer Friendly to one side. He’s awfully nice to both sides of the fence.”
Co-workers and downtown residents said that Officer Williams will surely be missed once he retires from the downtown Bike Patrol on January 1, after twelve years of service. Last month, he was recognized for his significant contribution to the overall improvement of downtown, and received the Downtown Excellence Award from the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership.
“You work with people who are CEOs, and you work with people who carry two bags with them, which is all of their belongings,” Williams said. “You got some people who have nothing that are as happy as they can be, and you have others who have everything. Every day is a different day.”
Williams said that through his job, he was able to get to know all the different types of people downtown. He finds that after his many years of working, the people of downtown are no longer strangers. By interacting with the people of downtown every day, he found it very helpful that people were able to voice their concerns first hand.
While on the bike patrol, officers do the same thing as an officer would in a car, without the barrier of the car itself. The Bike Patrol operates seven days a week from 6:40am until 2:20am. The boundaries of the bike patrol range from 1st Street to 7th Street, Broad Street to Patterson Avenue. There are currently 11 officers on the bike patrol.
“You’re a little more approachable. Kids especially love bicycles,” Williams said. “We can show them the lights, and they are drawn to us because of the bikes.”
Coe has known Williams for twelve years. He said what when the bike patrol office was across the street from the coffee shop he owns, Chelsea’s, everyone kept asking if he had met “Officer Friendly” yet?
“Then one day, this short, shiny headed fellow came in, and said ‘Hi, I’m Billy Williams,’” Coe said.
Downtown residents were not the only people who approached Officer Williams on a daily basis. He explained that he acts almost as a downtown ambassador, as visitors to downtown approach him regularly asking him questions.
“To a lot of people who visit, we are the first people they come in contact with,” Williams said. “They ask for directions and where to eat.”
Sgt. Bowers, who supervises the bike patrol, found that Williams loved his job so much because he was always able to talk to people. He noted that Williams does a great job of getting to know who the people are downtown, particularly the business owners.
“He’s the type of person who would give the shirt off his back,” Bowers said. “He’s one of the nicest people and professionally, he’s a very hard worker.”
After his retirement, Williams plans to stay in Winston-Salem and stay in contact with not only the friends he has made in the police department, but also all the people he came in contact with while working downtown.