New Bellevue police chief left retirement to rejoin law enforcement after nationwide calls for police reform

The City of Bellevue’s new police chief said he wants to help bridge the gap between community and law enforcement-- he came out of retirement to do just that.

Wendell Shirley was sworn into his role as chief on Feb. 23.

He grew up in Watts, California where there was distrust and fear between the people and the police. Raised by his grandparents, he knew as a child that he wanted to become an officer to help people and change the dynamic. Shirley said he hopes to continue that lifelong passion for public service in Bellevue.

"I always felt like if I became a police officer, maybe I could do something to help people. You’d have the authority to do it, and you can really help people --victims of crimes-- and maybe you could hold other people accountable. And I just thought it was a great platform to do some good work," said Shirley.

Good work is something Shirley said he always strived to do during his 26 years in law enforcement in California before retiring in 2019. However, in 2020, he believed his work wasn’t over and felt a calling back to public service after nationwide protests over social justice and police reform.

"I know law enforcement is going through a challenging time. And some of our colleagues have certainly put us in that position. But I will tell you there are hundreds of police officers in this country that really do it for the right reasons because they care about people," said Shirley.

Shirley came to Bellevue in March 2021 after the department’s extensive nationwide search for an assistant chief. He was interim chief for six months before being sworn in as chief last week.

Shirley said he knew he was re-entering law enforcement during a difficult time. In 2021, at least 31 hate crimes were reported in Bellevue—up 55% from 2020. More than one-third of those cases were directed against Asian Americans. Not only that, the chief said Bellevue is experiencing an uptick in crime, just like other cities across Washington and the U.S.

"It is going to be absolutely imperative that cities, their police department and other entities of the city work together to solve some of these because it doesn’t land just on the police department to handle this," said Shirley.

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He explained Bellevue saw an increase in property crimes. He said his top goal is, "Reducing the fear of crime, dealing with quality of life issues is our number one priority. Keeping those that live, work and visit this city safe."

He also said community engagement is in the top three on his goal list.

"We’ve listened to our community and they’ve spoken and said we want to be more engaged with our police department, we want to be able to provide more feedback, more input into how we are policed," said Shirley.

The chief said he has a three-pronged approach to address the increasing crime. He calls the plan PIE: prevention, intervention, enforcement.

"And if you notice, enforcement is the last letter. So, we need more prevention, we need more intervention and there also needs to be enforcement/consequences. So, it’s going to take an umbrella of services to help us get through this," said Shirley.

The chief said it’s an honor wear his new badge and continue his life’s purpose. As the first person of color to lead the police department, he said it’s his pledge to help protect the city.

"I also understand the responsibility that I have as the chief. So, I need to be certain that I make a difference for everyone. I’m the police chief for everyone, but it would be a waste if I got the job and then when it’s done what did you do with it?" he said. "Raised by grandparents, very modest means. For me to be able to rise to the level of chief of police, I hope it is inspiring and influencing to all young people of all colors. If you stick with it, work hard, get your education you can do it."

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