The Virginian-Pilot: Col. William Clayton Bennett promoted to Chesapeake undersheriff
As a young lieutenant years ago in the Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office, William Clayton Bennett Jr. praised one of the sergeants on staff, Jim O’Sullivan.
He predicted the sergeant would one day be sheriff, and asked O’Sullivan to take him along when he got to the top.
They both laugh at the memory now — especially as Sheriff O’Sullivan conducted the Sept. 11 ceremony marking Bennett’s advance to Undersheriff.
But it had nothing to do with that long ago request.
“I feel extremely confident that he’ll be able to carry out my vision and to help me with the day to day operation,” O’Sullivan said.
Bennett was already in charge of operations for the department as one of two chief deputies.
O’Sullivan said after serving his first term as sheriff, he decided a single chain of command was a better method for communication and running the office.
Bennett is a 35-year veteran who has worked in or been a supervisor in almost every section of the Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff said at times he’s reported to Bennett, and other times their roles reversed.
Their respect for each other has remained constant.
“I would say that he has an incredible amount of knowledge, which in our line of work is essential,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s dependable, he’s dedicated and he’s very good at handling things that arise.”
And the two men are kindred spirits when it comes to the mission of the Sheriff’s Office and its role in the community.
While former Sheriff John Newhart was known for programs that serve senior citizens, O’Sullivan has added some to help young people along.
O’Sullivan describes Bennett as a leader who has a “command presence about him” with a personal side that is all heart.
“He does a lot with Special Olympics and really enjoys helping people, whether it’s our staff or seniors or youth,” O’Sullivan said.
Bennett has won awards for his work in the community, including the Martin Luther King Jr. leadership award from Exodus Faith Ministries.
He’s now on the state’s executive council of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, a fundraising effort for Special Olympics.
And he’s active in other community groups, including the New Chesapeake Men for Progress Educational Foundation, which raises scholarships for dozens of African-American students each year.
Bennett was born in Norfolk and his family later moved to the Georgetown area of Chesapeake.
He started working for the Sheriff’s Office as an intern while studying at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, he became a full-time Chesapeake deputy.
He loved working in the jail.
“It was different everyday,” he said. “It kept you on your toes.”
He’s found the same is true at the top.
“If it’s not going on in here, it’s going on in the community, so it keeps you young,” he said.
Bennett said the work of the Sheriff’s Office has grown tremendously since he started.
He estimates there were probably 80 to 90 inmates when he started.
Now there are about 1,100 at the Chesapeake Correctional Center and another 250 housed at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail.
The city jail is at double capacity and a third expansion is underway.
The Sheriff’s Office has about 450 employees, including 400 sworn officers, and a budget of just over $44 million.
Along with everything else, Bennett has watched diversity in the Sheriff’s Office grow with time.
“We match our city population pretty good,” he said.
That’s important in law enforcement, Bennett said, and the sheriff recognizes that and has made it a goal.
“I think he’s done a good job with that,” he said.
Bennett is the first African-American to reach the rank of colonel and he knows it’s a role that will bring added responsibility.
He’s looking forward to it.
“I take it as an accomplishment that the sheriff has the confidence in me,” Bennett said. “I think it’s an honor and a blessing.”
The promotion of Col. William Clayton Bennett Jr. was the first of many that will be made between now and November, according to Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan.
The sheriff said he will be promoting four deputies to lieutenant, three to captain and one to major.
He has already announced the promotion of 10 deputies to sergeant.
They include: Michael Belby, Lawrence Bray, Duane Gill, Brian Higginbotham, Misty Long, Duane McNair, Jason Pruitt, Lorenzo Thompson, Thomas Wenthe and Jeffrey Windsor.
Janie Bryant, firstname.lastname@example.org