CLAYTON — The town’s new police chief, Robert Wayne Bridges, is no stranger to the force.
Bridges, the interim chief since May, came to Clayton 15 years ago and climbed his way through the ranks, from patrol officer to captain, before becoming chief.
Bridges said he can think of no place he’d rather be. “It’s a really great situation to be in,” he said.
Bridges is responsible for many firsts within the department. He formed the SWAT team, led the newly-formed administrative division and championed the department’s international accreditation status.
Bridges already has a game plan as chief. “I want to put a stronger emphasis on training because it reduces (chances) for the officers to get injured, and it increases our effectiveness,” he said.
In particular, Bridges wants to take advantage of a Johnston Community College program that hones an officer’s physical and mental fitness by placing him in a simulation where he has to decide whether or not to shoot. The officer also has to protect himself from getting shot.
Starting next month, Bridges wants his officers to go through the 30-minute simulation every quarter. “It’s a very intense training both physically and mentally,” Bridges said. “Everything I’ll implement is something I’ll also take part in.”
The chief also plans to implement a yearly physical-fitness test. “I’m proposing a test so officers can see where they’re at and what they need to do to get in shape,” Bridges said.
The goals are to reduce officer injury and better protect the public.
Bridges wants to use the Police Officer Physical Abilities Test, or POPAT, which is already in use in two nearby towns – Garner and Cary.
In the test, officers are timed as they complete tasks that simulate what they might have to do on the job. The test begins with an officer getting out of his car, running 200 yards and then dragging a dummy weighing 150 pounds for 50 feet. The officer then has to scale a staircase up and down three times, push open a 50-pound door with his body weight, do multiple sets of 20 pushups and 20 sit-ups and crawl through a 40-foot culvert.
The standard time for completing the test is seven minutes and 20 seconds, though some departments give their officers more time. The Garner Police Department allows its officers 14 minutes.
Bridges thinks the timed test will give officers motivation to be healthy so they can be better at their job.
Along with physical training, Bridges plans to emphasize ethics, and he wants to help his officers become better communicators.
“The most effective way to deal with a situation is through communicating,” Bridges said. “You hope you never have to be aggressive.”
Raised in Washington in Beaufort County, Bridges served four years in the Army as an air-traffic controller. He then spent a decade with the Raleigh Police Department, serving as a driving and radar instructor.
He joined the Clayton forcing in 1998, moving through the ranks to become a sergeant, lieutenant and then captain. He led the Patrol Division for almost seven years.
In 2003, Bridges formed Clayton’s SWAT Team and has remained the team’s commander.
In 2006, he took over the newly-formed Administrative Services Division.