Thursday, 09 September 2021 17:25

Gillenwater named new chief of Rockingham Police Department

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Capt. George Gillenwater will be the next chief of the Rockingham Police Department. Capt. George Gillenwater will be the next chief of the Rockingham Police Department. City of Rockingham

ROCKINGHAM — The city’s next police chief is coming from within the department.


City Manager Monty Crump announced Thursday afternoon that Capt. George Gillenwater will succeed outgoing Chief Billy Kelly starting Nov. 17.

Gillenwater is currently a detective, heading up Major Crimes and Internal Investigations and has since 2016. He was recently promoted to the rank of captain.

“The City is very fortunate that there were several highly qualified internal candidates,” Crump said in a letter. “Captain Gillenwater's senior experience, especially his experience in law enforcement command, will prove very beneficial to the Police Department and the City of Rockingham.”

Law enforcement wasn’t Gillenwater’s first career choice.

The Atlantic Beach native, and former quarterback of the West Carteret High School football team, started out in the restaurant business.

Gillenwater managed restaurants in Wilmington and eventually moved to the Sandhills where he managed Ruby Tuesday in Southern Pines.

At the time, Gillenwater said he had a very young family and, being family oriented, felt like he couldn’t spend enough time with them.

“There’s no such thing as a 40-hour work week” in the restaurant world, he said, recalling working an average of 80 hours per week with a 45-minute commute.

Gillenwater said family friend Buddy Mullen introduced him to then-chief Robert Vorhees: “And I never looked back.”

His last restaurant has since closed: “In hindsight, it was the right move.”

He said he was always interested in community service.

“(Mullen) believed in me, he pushed me in that direction and I absolutely love it.”

Gillenwater joined the department in 2006 as a patrol officer and eventually worked his way up to investigator. He also briefly served as a special agent with the N.C. Department of Revenue.

During his 15 years on the force, Gillenwater said a lot has changed — mostly for the better.

“Law enforcement was more of a job, now it’s a career,” he said.

When he came on board, there were no body cameras and no tazers.

There is also now more education and training for officers, which Gillenwater said is a benefit to society and the public, as well as the department.

Gillenwater himself holds both a BA in Business Administration and an MBA, is a graduate of the N.C. State University Law Enforcement Executive Program and the N.C. Justice Academy Leadership Certificate Program, has obtained his Advanced Law Enforcement certificate, and is a certified law enforcement general instructor.

“Chief Kelly has done an amazing job making (education and training) a priority of the department and that’s something I look to continue,” Gillenwater said.

He added that he’s “not looking to reinvent the wheel” or “make whirlwind changes,” saying that the policies and procedures implemented during Kelly’s tenure were “great ideas.”

Gillenwater plans to use the next two months to learn as much as he can about being a chief from Kelly, who announced his retirement last month.

“Captain Gillenwater brings a strong skill set, experienced demeanor and a balanced approach to law enforcement in a very challenging and ever-changing social environment,” Crump said, adding that Gillenwater “is fully committed to the safety and welfare of the citizens of Rockingham and is well prepared to lead the Rockingham Police Department.”