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Bristol, Tennessee Police Chief Blaine Wade has announced his retirement after nearly four decades in public service. Chief Wade’s 37-year career in law enforcement began when he joined the Bristol Tennessee Police Department immediately following high school at the age of 18, becoming one of the youngest sworn officers in the state of Tennessee. He would later be promoted to captain, and has led the department as chief since February 2004. His final day on the job will be June 18, 2021.
Wade acknowledges that such a long tenure in the role of chief is not particularly common. Under his 17 years of consistent leadership, however, a number of significant milestones and achievements have been reached by the department. The department has been continuously accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) since 1996, earning the status of Meritorious Agency and receiving their eighth consecutive accreditation award last year. In 2010, the department’s tradition of adherence to high standards of excellence led to Bristol assisting with development and becoming a charter agency of the Tennessee Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (TLEA), which now boasts more than 50 accredited agencies across the state. Several strategic partnerships have also been formed under Chief Wade’s supervision. These include the transition to the use of a multi-agency command center that allows for coordination between more than a dozen local, state, and federal agencies on site at Bristol Motor Speedway events; a regional explosive ordnance disposal unit in collaboration with the Bristol, Virginia Police Department; and the expansion of the School Resource Officer program with Bristol Tennessee City Schools.
In describing the ways in which the law enforcement profession has changed since being named as chief, Wade points specifically to greater measures of accountability and the rapidly evolving role that technology plays in day-to-day operations. Since his earliest days as chief, Bristol’s dispatch operations have undergone continuous improvements to remain on the leading edge of Next Generation 911 technology. Chief Wade has also overseen the implementation of the body camera program as well as the transition to an all-digital infrastructure for body-worn and in-car video systems. Recently, the department implemented the downtown camera and emergency call box initiative, modeled after similar programs on college campuses across the country, supplementing the downtown officer program to ensure that Bristol’s downtown area remains a safe and welcoming environment for residents, visitors, and business owners.
Despite the many changes in law enforcement over the years, Chief Wade affirms that the core values associated with wearing the badge remain the same. When asked to describe the key attributes needed to be successful as chief, Wade points to faith, the composure to not make decisions in haste, and a high degree of confidence in his staff. He also thanks the city for providing opportunities for professional development and to further his education. While serving the department, he earned an Associate of Science in Criminal Justice and Police Science from Virginia Highlands Community College, a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Management from Tusculum University, and a Master of City Management from East Tennessee State University. He also attended the Southern Police Institute Administrative Officers Course at the University of Louisville and the FBI Academy. Wade has always emphasized the importance of professional development for public safety personnel, having helped form a committee during his time as captain to develop educational standards for the city’s police and fire departments that are still in use today. Even in retirement, Wade plans to continue educating the next generation of law enforcement professionals in his role as an adjunct faculty member at King University where he has taught for the last five years.
Chief Wade currently serves on the boards of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, the Second Judicial District Drug Task Force, and the Branch House Family Justice Center.
“Throughout his career with the City of Bristol, Chief Wade has exhibited a steadfast devotion to serving this community. From major events that have put Bristol on the world stage to some incredibly difficult and challenging situations that his department has faced in the line of duty, Blaine has been the embodiment of integrity and professionalism through it all,” said City Manager Bill Sorah. “There is no question that today Bristol is a safer place to call home because of his leadership, and it has been my honor to work with him.”
In reflecting on what his lasting legacy in the department might be, Chief Wade notes the organization’s many accomplishments over his tenure, current crime rates that are the lowest they have been in recent memory, and the great deal of focus placed on mentoring future department leaders. “My main hope would be to continue our tradition of being a highly accredited agency and a model for best practices in law enforcement,” said Wade. “Serving Bristol alongside the dedicated men and women in this department has truly been the honor and privilege of a lifetime. I can only hope that I leave it a little bit better as a result of my time here.”
Following his retirement, he looks forward to devoting his time in pursuit of various part-time endeavors, including continued nonprofit and community service work. Above all, Wade is eager to spend more time with his wife and three children.
The process to select Chief Wade’s successor will commence in the coming months.