For 18 years, Mike Williams taught social studies and US history to 8th through 12th grade students in upper East Tennessee. The longtime educator also served stints as an elementary school principal and high school assistant principal.
In summer 2016, Williams experienced a disappointment that would lead to an unlikely opportunity: a second career as a police officer.
“Being an educator prepared me to do this job,” said Williams, who joined the UT Police Department in February 2017 as a night shift officer. “Education and police are people businesses. It’s interacting with people and developing those good relationships. The best educators are professional, fair, respectful, and kind, especially when dealing with disciplinary issues and other uncomfortable situations. So are the best police officers.”
He added, “As an officer, if you’re dealing with a victim of a crime, you can be kind. Even if you have to arrest someone, you can be professional and treat them with respect and kindness.”
Williams recently was appointed to UTPD’s Community Relations Unit (CRU), which conducts the department’s education and outreach efforts.
“With CRU, I can do some teaching in a different capacity, foster positive interactions with students, and help prevent crime through education,” he said.
An amusing part of the UT job has been running into his former high school students.
“It’s funny to watch their reaction when they see me as a police officer as opposed to their former assistant principal,” Williams said.
One such student is Ashley Anderson, a 2013 graduate of Chuckey-Doak High School in Afton, Tennessee, where Williams was her assistant principal. Anderson, who now works as a dispatcher at UTPD, was shocked when she was introduced to Williams on the job.
“It was weird at first seeing Mr. Williams at the department. But then it was kind of cool,” she said. “I was dispatching him to calls, which took some getting used to. I was watching his back—it was like our roles were reversed from high school.”
Anderson noted that Williams excelled at engaging high school students and those skills transfer to his current job.
“As an educator, he always prided himself on being involved in the community and with his students,” she said. “Whenever we had a problem, we always went to him. As a police officer, he is pretty approachable. He knows how to connect with students and he loves to do it.”
Williams’s foray into the law began in college. The Greeneville, Tennessee, native and resident studied political science at Carson-Newman University and thought he would go to law school. Instead, he followed in his mother’s footsteps and became an educator. But he retained his interest in the law.
He spent his career in the Greene County School System. Three years ago, as he was serving at assistant principal at Chuckey-Doak High School, the principal vacancy opened up. He applied for but did not get the job.
“I decided to use the disappointment as a chance to do something else,” he said.
When the lifelong Vol fan began looking for law enforcement jobs, he stumbled upon the opening at UTPD and applied.
“They were willing to take a chance on a 40-year-old rookie with no prior law enforcement experience,” Williams said. “I’m glad they did.”
This story is part of “Meet UTPD,” an occasional series that gives a peek into the lives and roles of University of Tennessee Police Department officers and staff who serve the campus community.
Lola Alapo (865-974-1094, firstname.lastname@example.org)