He promises to be a very visible leader in this city undergoing rapid change
By Charles Hallman
William “Blair” Anderson was sworn in August 27 as St. Cloud’s first Black police chief. He says he likes the job so much it’s even better than flying an F-16.
“One of the things I am focusing on here is doing the right things right,” said Anderson in an August 30 interview from his office at police headquarters in downtown St. Cloud. “I’ve noticed already…that there’s a whole bunch that’s right. You have to do the right things right in order for an organization this size to fire on all cylinders.”
“The accurate litmus test,” Anderson believes, is how the citizenry sees their police force. “I want to know how the citizens feel about a St. Cloud police officer.”
As St. Cloud’s first Black chief, Anderson says he knows full well the city’s racial legacy, including recent charges of racial profiling by police officers. “I am aware of the history of St. Cloud. There’s nothing happening in St. Cloud that hasn’t been happening all over the United States since the first of our people were brought over here on a slave ship. I don’t want St. Cloud be stigmatized singularly — St. Cloud represents more than that.
“I am not that concerned about what happened before last Sunday [the day before he took office August 27], because I can’t do anything about that. What we can do, though, is look forward and make things better where they need to be made better,” the new chief said.
This doesn’t mean he dismisses “the complaints of racial strife, animosity, and hostility” from the past. “But it is not unique to this place,” he said. “Does this mean we can’t improve on some things? Of course we can.”
“I am the epitome of that old proverb that it takes a village. My entire identity is not wrapped in this uniform.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Anderson said, “My parents let me believe I could be anything I wanted. I wanted to be Top Gun before that movie was ever made,” he joked. But a high school English teacher later noticed his writing ability and “developed that particular talent, so I shifted my focus from aviation to journalism.”
Anderson eventually chose law enforcement after serving in the military, earned both his bachelor’s degree in police science and a master’s degree in public safety administration from St. Mary’s University, and is a 2008 graduate of the FBI National Academy. He started as an intern at Dakota County and rose through the ranks during his 15 years there until he left in 2011 to become Carver County’s chief deputy sheriff.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, who hired Anderson earlier this summer, told the MSR in a separate interview last week, “I am very impressed with his background, his leadership, and how he risen to leadership positions very rapidly in his tenure.”
Kleis said his instructions to the 13-member selection committee (which included business, civic and religious leaders, St. Cloud State University President Earl Potter, and State Senator and former St. Paul police chief John Harrington) to select three candidates out of a pool of 50 applicants but not rank them in any order. He chose Anderson over two other finalists, Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger and St. Cloud Interim Police Chief Richard Wilson.
“I was looking for, in general, somebody who has experience in a police force our size and a community with a population our size, a growing diverse population, and somebody who has worked with a lot of different agencies and organizations,” Kleis noted.
“We are an increasingly growing community, and [we need] his experience and ability to coordinate and collaborate and to deal with an increasingly rapidly diverse population. I want someone who can handle change,” continued Kleis.
“The police chief should be somebody that everyone in the city knows — that’s what I was looking for. I am entirely impressed with his background. He was put into some very challenging leadership positions, and he handled them very well and exceeded expectations.”
“My philosophy is that we want people to know that…we are working in their service,” explained the new police chief. “The visibility part should apply to me as well. If I am the head of the organization, then I should be the first one out there and the last one to leave.
“I like people,” continued Anderson. “I want to be out there, and I want people to know who their chief of police is. There are plenty of things to do in [police headquarters]. I try to tackle as many things here as much as possible so I can go out and mingle with people, meet people, talk to them, understand what’s happening with them and understand what they want.
“You can gauge their level of sincerity, their level of frustration, their level of anger whatever it is, when you look into their eyes. You can’t do that over the telephone.”
As Carver County chief deputy sheriff, Anderson oversaw 156 employees and set and managed a $16 million operating budget. As Dakota County Jail operations and detention services commander, he managed 180 employees and an $8 million budget for five years.
“You have to manage those [Dakota County Jail] folk differently, because they go to jail every day, too — they’re locked in. Whether alleged or not, even if they haven’t been convicted, you are surrounded by people who would rather not be in jail [and would rather] be somewhere else,” said Anderson.
Now he’s in charge of the St. Cloud Police Department, where he will manage a $13 million-plus annual budget.
“I want people going above and beyond being selfless,” said Anderson of the force he now commands, adding that he will have an open door policy “for the community and for the people that work here.
“I am not going to proclaim that I am going to solve every problem. I am not going to try to be everything for everybody. We have lots of talented people, and I am going to utilize them to help the community solve those problems.”
The response he’s received in St. Cloud since his hiring “has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. The first part of his “30-60-90 day plan” is to observe and learn his staff of 104 sworn officers and 57 full- and part-time civilian employees.
“The first stanza of my plan is to just learn my way around here. [Headquarters] has a lot of nooks and crannies, so I try to spend at least 20 minutes a day walking around here, trying to discover something new, which isn’t difficult. It is a fantastic, marvelous building.
“While my original plan was to observe for 30 days and tinker with anything, that already has been thrown out the window. There are some things that needed immediate attention for the sake of the personnel. [But] I don’t want to come in and start making changes for the sake of making changes,” says Anderson.
He also told his staff to have fun. “This job is serious enough, and filled with enough stress and anxiety. We are not going to forget to have fun here.”
Finally, Anderson said of becoming St. Cloud’s first Black chief, “I am the epitome of that old proverb that it takes a village. My entire identity is not wrapped in this uniform. I represent a lot of things. I represent my family. I represent all of my former teachers…
“It allows me to give back all that has been given to me, and I will never be done giving back to repay that debt. I can never repay the people who went before us, who got their heads cracked, and Freedom Riders… People that I never met paid a very hefty price so that I might realize some dream, whatever it was. I don’t want to squander that.
“I still love planes, and I still dream like a little kid sometimes to be sitting in the cockpit and flying an F-16,” said Anderson. “But this job is the best job… I would do this job for free.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]