Granby Police Chief Bill Housley looks back on 45 year career
Bill Housley is a quiet man, subdued you might say. His unassuming presence as Chief of the Granby Police Department coupled with his modesty and professional demeanor belie a 45-year career filled with danger, excitement and purpose. Housley will officially retire at the end of this month but before he formally stepped down he took some time to reflect on all he has seen and done as an officer.
For most of the residents of Granby we know Chief Housley through his participation in community events, he often referees junior high football games, or maybe from his presence at our local schools; Housley welcomes the elementary students at Granby Elementary nearly every day.
What many folks from Grand County may not know is the remarkable career in policing Chief Housley has experienced. From working as an undercover agent in the 1970s, to leading anti-gang and narcotic task forces to his most recent work building a small town police department from the ground up; Housley’s storied career as taken him from the underworld bars and parlors of the mid-west to the comparatively quiet streets of the high country.
THE EARLY DAYS: UNDERCOVER
Chief Housley began his career in 1971 in Madison Wis. with the Madison Police Department (MPD). At that time the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) was the epicenter of the anti-Vietnam war movement in the US. Housley’s first day on the job was July 12, 1971, slightly less than one year after the infamous bombing of UMW’s Sterling Hall by four anti-war radicals, killing one researcher and wounding three others.
It was in this era of heightened tensions that Housley first “donned the badge”, though that term is a bit of a misnomer. For the first two years of his career Housley never wore a badge or uniform, and even had to look up the address of the Madison Police Station on the rare occasion he was called in by superiors.
“I actually worked for the (Madison) Police Department for two-years and I didn’t really know how to get to the office unless I looked it up,” Housley said. “I was hired to go undercover in a deep undercover capacity. My first day was spent pondering how in the world does one infiltrate the drug distribution and subversive networks of a fairly major metropolitan area.”
Housley initially spent much of his time on the UWM campus and on State Street, the local bar area popular among university students, trying to make contacts in the underworld. He had an assumed name, false identification and a false background, which was based closely on his own real life experiences to prevent any simple mistakes of memory exposing his true identity.
During his years as an undercover officer Housley infiltrated a number of narcotic distribution rings, subversive networks, a sex trafficking organization and a gang that organized a string of armed robberies.
“There were some reasons for leaving undercover work, which wasn’t strictly my decision,” Housley said. “You build up so many cases, you can’t let them ride forever. But once you start arresting people you are done, your cover is blown.”
Eventually Housley was called in testify in Federal Court on an international drug trafficking case involving cocaine smuggled from Bogotá Columbia to the American mid-west; shortly afterwards, for obvious reasons, his time working undercover came to an end.
“We took all the cases down at pretty much the same time and arrested the primary players; thirty-five different cases,” Housley said.
ON THE FORCE
After getting out of undercover work Housley transitioned to uniformed patrol work for a couple of years before being reassigned to the Special Operation Section (SOS), a specialty unit working mostly in plainclothes and focusing on burglaries, armed robberies and juvenile issues. During his stint with the SOS he was assigned for a time as the personal bodyguard for the Mayor of Madison who was receiving threats.
A few years later Housley was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He worked as a uniformed patrol sergeant in the field for around two-years before he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
After his promotion Housley initially worked as the Night Operations Commander, overseeing the MPD patrol division each night shift. He spent 10-years as the Director of the MPD Police Academy and In-Service Training Academy and also spent a stint as head of investigations for the department as the Lieutenant of the Detective Division, which handled all investigations involving homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults within the City of Madison.
During his 34 years with the MPD Housley spent five-years as Commander of the Interagency Narcotics and Gang Taskforce, something he called, “a very unique experience.”
“We brought in the FBI, the DEA, the DCI (Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigations). I sat down with the leaders of these agencies and had a philosophical discussion. I tend to be philosophical. I said, ‘Over the years we have stepped on each others toes, but if we all worked together collaboratively we could do some amazing work.”
The Interagency Taskforce Housley headed began working large criminal enterprises with long term investigations that would sometimes last two to three-years before arrests were made. “We investigated some very large gang conspiracy cases. We took down some fairly large gangs.” Many of the gangs the Taskforce targeted were based out of Chicago but were working in Madison and other parts of Wis.
Housley continued to lead up special details within the MPD for several years working as the Commander of the Special Events Team that handled crowd control at large public gatherings in Madison, which often involved crowds of over 100,000 attendees. He also worked as Commander of the MPD Dignitary Protection Team working directly with Secret Service Agents when Presidential campaigns would come through the city or when foreign government officials were making official visits.
Housley was eventually promoted to the rank of Captain and worked as Commander of the MPD SWAT Team, oversaw the department’s Officer Involved Shooting Team and was Captain of the Detective Division.
“There came a time where I was getting to the point I was eligible to retire in Madison,” Housley said. “My wife and I were talking about what should we do. At that time I was too young to totally retire. We were out in Boulder for a couple of weeks on a short-term mission trip. We were just having fun going through the want ads in the paper saying, ‘I could see myself doing this or that’, thinking about the next chapter in life.”
Housley said his wife first spotted the ad that would bring him west to Granby. “She said she found something unique. Somebody was looking for someone who would know how to start a police department. I said, ‘that would be pretty unique. How many people get a chance to start a police department?”
After mulling it over for a few days Housley decided to apply to the new position of Chief of the Granby Police Department and was selected by the Town of Granby not long thereafter.
BUILDING A DEPT.
Chief Housley described creating the Granby Police Department (GPD) as, “unique and challenging”. He highlighted the practical differences between working in a large agency like the MPD and the relatively small department here in Granby but added that at its core the job is still largely the same.
“Fundamentally policing is policing, at least if it is done correctly, in my mind,” Housley said. “The community component is probably easier in a small agency, it is easier to know a lot of the people and for the people to know us from a personal perspective, not just a professional perspective. For a smaller agency the challenges are largely resource based. In a small agency you simply don’t have the resources, so collaboration between agencies is critical. Fortunately we have always had a strong collaborative relationship with the Fraser/Winter Park PD and right now we have strong collaborative relationships between all the agencies in the county.”
As he continued Housley began waxing philosophical on what makes for good community policing. “That is the critical core component of any police department, to have strong police-community relationships, to have that transparency… What is the roll of police in a free society? I personally see that function closely intertwined with the community. Police are very inefficient without strong community connections. You have to have the support of the community to effectively police that community. Policing is something that you do with the community; it is not something you do to a community.
“That is a critical philosophical perspective in my mind. If an agency has a philosophy of, ‘we are the police and we will tell you what needs to be done,’ there is going to be great disconnect between the police and the community.”
But while Housley highlighted the importance of police interactions with citizens he also stressed the importance of citizen perceptions of the police. “There is a tendency I think that is fairly common, where society views the police as something separate from them. They don’t understand the police as human beings. They see them as figures in a blue uniform. Being involved in the community in as many ways as we can, both professionally and personally, allows them (citizens) to see us as human beings.”
He then tied his point to the some of the use-of-force incidents that have drawn national coverage and sparked, sometimes violent, protests over the past few years. “While there have been some national incidents that are hard to understand and hard to justify the circumstances of, the vast majority of the incidents that are nationally recognized are the result of poor police-community relations… Had the police and community had an ongoing relationship and an ongoing dialog where they knew and respected one another, most of these incidents would never have blown up into a national focus.”
But Housley went on to defend the vast majority of officers involved in such incidents saying, “In my 45-plus years in policing I have yet to met a police officer who looks forward to the prospect of maybe someday shooting someone. The thought that police are out there hoping they get a chance to shoot someone is very hurtful to the police because that ideology does not exist unless there is some psychopath wearing a blue uniform.”
In looking back on his long career Housley said he hoped he had been successful in bridging the gaps between the community and police and, “maybe changing some of those stereotypes about who the police are… That is my hope, that I have at least had some influence on others. I think we (GPD) have been successful at that. I am very grateful to Granby for giving me the opportunity and for how accepted I felt coming into this community as an outsider.”
Chief Housley’s last day in the GPD office was Thursday Dec. 22. His last official day with the department will be Dec. 31. We wish you well in retirement Chief.
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