Q&A with Wesley Cannon

June 18, 2014 

Wesley Cannon

City of residence: Butler

Occupation: Chief, Byron Police Department

QUESTION: You’ve been with the Byron Police Department 20 years today. What led you into law enforcement?

ANSWER: I grew up with it. My father, Dalton Harold Cannon, has been a police chief for 34 years and my uncle, Charles Cannon, has been sheriff in Macon County since 1976. I’ve always seen it and was in my first car chase riding shotgun with my dad when I was 12. I knew early on it’s what I wanted to do. But I didn’t want to work for them, I wanted to venture out on my own.

QUESTION: Where did you grow up?

ANSWER: I was born in Montezuma and raised in a little town in Macon County called Ideal -- the ideal place to grow up. My grandfather retired from the railroad and farmed and I helped out. There were horses and lots of hunting and fishing to enjoy.

QUESTION: How old are you now?

ANSWER: Forty.

QUESTION: How long have you been chief?

ANSWER: I became chief January 1, 2002, so 12 years.

QUESTION: What was your path to chief?

ANSWER: I went to ABAC (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton.) and attended the police academy there. I bore the expense and put myself through officer certification and that makes you a little more inviting when you start applying. Chief James Barber took a chance and hired me here in Byron when I was 20. It’s the only place I ever worked except for a mom and pop grocery store when I was a kid.

QUESTION: And your career path in Byron?

ANSWER: Patrolman, then corporal and sergeant. Chief Barber retired and I was asked to apply. I was 28 and had concerns I wasn’t ready, but the door was open and the mayor and council approved me unanimously. I didn’t tell my dad I’d applied until after I got the position.

QUESTION: What makes a good officer?

ANSWER: Good morals -- what they believe as far as what’s right and wrong. That and a little common sense. The job isn’t rocket science, but without those two things you should never even consider being a police officer.

QUESTION: But it’s a demanding job.

ANSWER: It is. But you can’t get a frame of mind that it’s us against them; police against people. It’s not. It’s us with them. We’re maybe against a select few, just one or two percent. I ask every officer I hire, “Do you love your mom?” I’ve never had one say no. The point is, you have to treat people like you’d want your mother treated. I want them to take that law book and realize you can’t do it strictly in black and white and go by the letter of the law. You have to apply it to people and situations and everyone is different.

QUESTION: You want them to treat people well.

ANSWER: By remaining calm and listening you can do a better job for the law and for people. If an officer stays calm and just talks and listens, you might take a difficult situation and turn it around. But still, not everyone will let you. I’ve had people step out belligerently the moment they’re stopped for a ticket. But for the officer, it’s their job to stay cool. There’s no place for an officer with a smart mouth.

QUESTION: What do you look for in a new hire?

ANSWER: You can make someone a good officer, but what I look for is a quality individual. Gladly, our mayor and council have enabled us to go out and compete for quality people. People are our No. 1 one resource, and I’m really happy we have a very low turnover. Happy because of what it means to the force and the community and happy because that first year a new officer is about an $80,000 investment in training, equipment and other costs. We invest a lot and want to keep them

QUESTION: How do you keep them?

ANSWER: Realizing it’s not about lights and sirens but about people. They make the department. I want them to think this is the best place they can work. When I make a decision, I take my time and try to see how it will affect other things and people. I think giving that day off or family time is important. Family is important. I tell officers I’m more concerned about making your wife happy than you because if she’s happy you’ll do a better job. I do all I can to make my officers happy -- but they have to make me happy, too.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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