When the petite, 5-foot-tall, single mother of a spry 18-month-old boy joined the academy, she knew she couldn’t achieve her goals alone. Supportive of her ambition, her father and other family members took care of her son Billy so she could concentrate on the intense physical training and academic studies required to be a CHP cadet, and eventually officer.
Williams knew that before cadet candidates can advance to their written exam, they must pass a Physical Ability Test (PAT), which includes 19 push-ups in one minute, 25 sit-ups in one minute, completing a 1.5 mile run in under 15 minutes, and a 300-meter run in 70 seconds.
After 28 weeks of tough, live-in training, Williams’s grit paid off and she graduated from the CHP Academy and was assigned as an officer in Gilroy, where she received field training. Her journey to become a California Highway Patrol officer had become a reality, and she would go on to an accomplished 28-year career, a time she refers to as her “dash.”
Williams worked graveyard shifts, something she would continue for nearly half her career as a CHP officer, in order to create a sense of stability for Billy and later, her daughter Gianna.
While it was tough juggling everything she had on her plate, Williams eventually worked her way back to Sacramento, where her father and family support network continued to help as her career took hold.
While she was working nights, her son would be asleep, and when she got home, she could take him to school, sleep while he was there, and pick him up at the end of the day.
“It wasn’t easy, but it was a way to have some sense of normalcy, like family dinners together, doing homework together,” Williams recalled.
As her CHP career progressed, so did her personal and family life. Williams met and married her husband Jim, who also works in law enforcement for the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department and will be running for Sacramento County sheriff in 2022.
Williams would eventually rise through the ranks to become one of two female assistant chiefs (AC), the department’s second-highest-ranking officer, out of 32 ACs in the organization.
“When I began this journey, I was a single mother, on welfare and just divorced. But with confidence, hard work, integrity, and courage, I was able to rise to the rank of assistant chief in an organization of 11,000 and have a place at the table,” Williams said.
“I would like other women, who may be in a similar position as I once was, to chase their dreams and change their stars!”
When asked what it was like for both her and Jim to have leadership careers on the front lines of law enforcement, Williams said that over time, their relationship went from balancing schedules to something deeper.
She discovered that conversations about work became naturally honest and open, and that trust was at the heart of bringing each of their unique perspectives to the table for sometimes difficult discussions, even when they agreed to disagree.
“When we were younger, navigating our careers, we were just trying to find some life balance,” Williams said. “Then, as we both became executives in our respective organizations, the discussions became more about things we can and can’t control.”
Now, she said, they talk more about the importance of leadership and legacy, things they feel they have control over, issues like how to motivate or retain their staff, or how to build the kind of law enforcement culture they’d like to accomplish now and for the future.
“We also discuss how we’ve had to pivot to the necessary demands increasingly being placed on law enforcement right now,” she said.
“What we see on a day-to-day basis is the abnormal, the things the public doesn’t want to see or deal with, and that’s why we have law enforcement,” Williams said. “We protect you from things you don’t want to experience, but, at the same time, we’re there if you do.”
Making ‘The Dash’ Count
Now that she’s retired from the CHP, Williams says she’s planning to spend more quality time with Jim and their 12-year-old daughter, Gianna. Having recently passed her mortgage originator exam, she is planning a second career that will be more leisurely than her responsibilities leading a team of first responders on the front lines of public safety.
Williams said she’s thought a lot about author, speaker, and law enforcement veteran Gordon Graham’s frequent references to “The Dash,” a poem by Linda Ellis. She uses the poem as an analogy for her tenure with the CHP from 1994 to 2021.
“The meaning of ‘The Dash’ is the time between your birth year and when you join our glorious Lord,” Williams said. “What did we do in between is what matters most, how we treated people, showing appreciation more, and how we lived and loved those in our lives.”
In part of a LinkedIn post on her last day with the CHP, Williams shared some insights and advice:
“My ‘Dash’ with the patrol, represents a lot of accomplishments but what I am most proud of are the people, the relationships, the laughs, sorrows, and watching our people succeed, live, and grow,” she wrote
“The takeaway for me is that you can only control the controllable … and when you really evaluate what that means, you tend to realize a lot is in your control … teamwork, attitude, commitment, dedication, character, work ethic, accountability, grace, and the list goes on and on. Your legacy is in your control.”