Kevin Williams’ first summer as a police officer in Palmyra in 1985 brought him back to the same high school he had graduated from the year before.
In his four years as a student at Palmyra-Eagle High School, he didn’t recall anything happening like what he responded to as a new officer—a kid with a knife who Williams said he chased down the hall and tackled.
It was unexpected, but it served as a standout moment from his introduction into law enforcement.
His time on patrol and with the SWAT team at the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office—where he would eventually rise to become undersheriff, the office’s No. 2 role—featured other moments that stood out to Williams.
That included getting hit with asphalt during the infamous KKK rally in Janesville, the Alpine Valley helicopter crash where Stevie Ray Vaughan died and responding to a burglar alarm that was actually set off by burglars and not a random animal or balloon.
Williams said he left behind the flashier moments of his career to join the administrative ranks. After nearly 30 years total with the sheriff’s office, Williams, 54, is retiring from public service. His last day is Monday.
Back when he was still a high school student, he was unsure about his future. But he landed on being a police officer and enrolled in the program through Waukesha County Technical College.
During his second semester he was working at his local Amoco gas station when his boss suggested he pop over to the village hall and speak with the police and fire commission. He did, and he said they offered him a job.
Williams remembers being the only one using a semi-automatic pistol during academy training when everyone else had revolvers.
Reflecting on the differences in the field between then and now, he first pointed to advanced tools and technology. While the new tech can be helpful, it also takes away some of the personal interactions, he said.
Williams spent his 1990s with more of those personal interactions outside with the community when he worked as a patrol deputy with the sheriff’s office before he moved into leadership roles.
He said he was promoted to positions including sergeant, emergency management director and captain of communications before he became undersheriff in 2015 alongside newly elected Sheriff Kurt Picknell.
Dave Gerber will fill Williams’ role after serving as captain of patrol. Williams’ advice to his replacement is to be sure he looks at his new job with a global perspective because it oversees operations of the entire sheriff’s office.
Looking forward, Williams said the sheriff’s office will have to examine the study of its dispatch center and see what changes need to be made. Additionally, he said they should look through the data tracked in ProPhoenix, the software used by dispatch, to make patrol better and more efficient.
He saw his job as removing barriers and letting staff on the front lines flourish as much as possible.
“We have a great team here,” he said. “When we look good, it’s not because of me sitting in this chair. It’s because of my line staff and their support staff.”
Aside from Williams’ police work, his public safety resume also includes several years with various fire departments, including as chief with Palmyra’s department. But after he left there and joined La Grange’s department, he said he stressed to its chief that he wasn’t interested in moving up.
He just wanted to stay in the frontline role.
Although his time as a public official is ending, Williams is still going to be working full-time.
He’s feeling a similar sentiment.
“I kind of like to go into a new job just as Kevin,” he said.
“I’m just Kevin.”