BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — After 25 years with the Blacksburg Police Department, Chief Anthony Wilson — a Blacksburg native, Marine, and Virginia Tech graduate — is planning to retire on July 1.
“I’ve been absolutely blessed to be surrounded by the greatest people on earth here at the BPD. They all serve with such incredible honor, sacrifice and professionalism,” said Wilson. “They have become my family and together we have weathered some of the toughest times imaginable. I truly look forward to the future and new endeavors, but will always have the men and women of the BPD in my heart and mind.”
Wilson began his career as a Blacksburg police officer in 1997. Officials say his talent became apparent as he rose through the ranks of the department before becoming chief of police in 2014.
Throughout his tenure with the department he has served as a Patrol Field Training Officer, Criminal Investigator, Investigative Unit Supervisor, Tactical Team Operator/Commander, Patrol Unit Commander, and Division Commander. These assignments were during some of the town’s most difficult situations and provided a resume filled with command opportunities.
As a new Chief, Wilson inherited a well-constructed operation from his predecessors Chief Kim Crannis and Chief Bill Brown. With an emphasis on community engagement and interaction, the department launched the safety programs No Hokie Left Behind, Be Safe Blacksburg, and Adopt a Cop. Each program introduced officers to their constituents and allowed them to work collaboratively to solve identified safety issues.
Highlights of those programs were the implementation of cell phone charging stations in downtown bars and restaurants; Free Ride Fridays giving free transport from downtown to anywhere in town; Fifth Grade Field Day introducing all fifth grade classes to one another as they readied for middle school transition, Adopt-a-Cop Academy pairing Virginia Tech fraternities with officers as mentors, and presenting a week long class with Student Affairs on maintaining safe social environments.
Chief Wilson placed great priority on relationships with the Virginia Tech administration, athletics, and student body. Student Affairs initiatives grew into daily interactions with the Dean of Students, Student Conduct, and Fraternity/Sorority Life. One of the most critical alliances was formed with University Relations, coordinating crisis messaging that became so critical during serious events.
Wilson was also heavily involved in the Montgomery County Dialogue on Race initiative that created a forum to examine racial issues articulated by the African American community, and to implement solutions. As a member of the Law Enforcement Issue Group, disparity in the numbers of African American police officers, locally, was brought to the forefront.
Chief Wilson worked with New River Community College to create the Books to Badges program offering two-year scholarships to those interested in law enforcement careers. The success of the program grew into the much larger ACCE program (Access Community College Education), which allowed all students the opportunity to attend community college for two years. He also served as the Volunteer Service Coordinator for the program from its inception to the present.
Chief Wilson was a huge proponent of officer training and created the Training Triangle that became the cornerstone of department training throughout his tenure. The Triangle included increased training in tactical ability, advanced communications and de-escalation skills training, and the spiritual connection to service and psychological wellness.
He was instrumental in creating multiple alliances with several agencies and disciplines. Those relationships created the basis for the local response to the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2020. It was quickly expanded regionally to include the entire New River Health District. The New River Valley Public Health Task Force became the driving force in the regions pandemic response and provided logistical support for public testing and vaccination. The Task Force also dealt with collateral issues involving food instability, increased domestic violence and sheltering needs, communication isolation, and mental health concerns. Chief Wilson co-chaired this Task Force from the beginning, and remains in that capacity.Statement released on March 1, 2022 by the Town of Blacksburg
“It has been an honor to work alongside Chief Wilson,” said Blacksburg Town Manager Marc Verniel. “He has been much more than a Police Chief for Blacksburg, he is a true community leader. He has created lasting partnerships in the Blacksburg and Virginia Tech community, built upon the positive culture of the department, and been a key leader in the New River Valley. His impact will live on well beyond his tenure as Chief. I will personally miss working with him on a daily basis and wish him the best in his future adventures.”
WFXR News’ Kelsey Jean-Baptiste sat down with Wilson on Tuesday, March 1 to talk about his decision to retire.
He says it is time for a new chapter, adding that the decision boiled down to getting to enjoy many of the family moments that he’s missed.
“I looked at how I might have short-changed my own children, you know, and having three grandchildren right now has really opened my eyes about what I have missed,” said Wilson.
According to the police chief, when he first started the position eight years ago, he did not realize how much pressure came with it. As a result, he says that whoever wants to take on the role needs to understand what the job takes.
“My job was to enable our folks to do the best job. You quickly learn that you’re the conduit to the community, you’re the face for the department. That’s not easy, especially when sometimes people aren’t happy with the way things are going,” Wilson explained.
However, Wilson says he’s faced both his proudest and most difficult moments during his law enforcement career. By far, he says that the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting was the hardest thing he ever had to go through.
“We were overwhelmed for a while with the sadness and the kind of shock of that event, but the next day, the 17th, is when we had the candlelight vigil here. It was probably the first time, even as a Virginia Tech graduate, that I felt a spiritual connection to this place,” said Wilson.
He says it was their darkest day, but that one of the brightest lights came afterward. All he remembers is hundreds of people from across the New River Valley standing shoulder to shoulder on the Historic Drill Field, honoring the lives lost. That is what Wilson says is the soul of Blacksburg.
According to town officials, the recruitment process is already underway for the next chief of the Blacksburg Police Department.