COLUMBIA — Columbia police officer Chris Williams was patrolling his beat on the night of May 22 when he got a call asking him to check on a woman and her children who were walking along Clark Lane.
The woman, Chassity Samuels, had walked with her six children more than a mile from the Women's and Children's Hospital and was resting by an ATM. Williams spotted her, then stopped and asked if she and the children, all younger than 5, needed a ride home.
"She had said that she had just been at the hospital," Williams said. "A relative had a baby. She didn't want all her kids to sleep in the waiting room because she wanted everyone to be home in their own bed."
The Samuels family piled into Williams' squad car. As they rode east toward her house, Williams asked if they were hungry and offered to take them to McDonald's.
"She was kind of hesitant, and I told her that I would help her out," Williams said. "You could just see the gratitude on her face."
When they arrived at the restaurant, Williams opened the door and the children filed out.
"It was like they were a row of ducklings," Williams said. He bought each of the kids a Happy Meal and told Samuels to get something for herself. She picked a value meal.
Samuels was so impressed that she turned to social media to heap praise on the officer.
"He said that he has two kids, and he understands how hard it can be," Samuels posted on her Facebook page. "So, he bought us dinner and came in McDonald's with us. I told him I was happy to have him come in with us to show people that there are good cops out there today.
"He even gave us his card and said if he was on the job and I needed a ride, he would be happy to give one to me."
That expression of gratitude was reward enough for Williams, who said he was humbled by the words.
"It's not often that people express their appreciation for law enforcement," he said.
"I would say just, you know, try to remember that we're all human beings," Williams said. "So, I think that just treating everyone with respect is key."
That philosophy is what motivates Williams to be more than a cop when he contacts people on the job. He and other officers say such acts of kindness are common among police. Most try hard to live by their mission statement: "to work diligently to protect and serve by working with the community to solve problems and responsibly enforce the law."
Williams said he's no different from the rest of the police force.
"I know a lieutenant who bought somebody a car battery. There was an officer who bought a guy a hotel room," Williams said. "Those kinds of things are not uncommon in this department."
City Manager Mike Matthes mentioned both anecdotes in his State of the City address Wednesday morning.
"Our police force is in the habit of helping," he said. "I love it when citizens 'catch' city employees doing something good and share their stories. As these go viral across social media, it confirms the public's power to counter negative information with the powerful true story of caring, courageous public service."
Working for the good of the people
Bryana Larimer, a spokeswoman for the Columbia Police Department, said she has worked with Williams throughout his career.
"This was the third instance that someone posted (about Williams) on social media," Larimer said, adding that she believes he gets more compliments filed internally with the department that she doesn't get to see.
Williams started his career as a juvenile officer in 2011. Larimer knew he would get it, even though she had applied for the same position.
"He worked great with the juveniles and was always able to maintain his composure, even in difficult situations," she said. "He is a natural leader."
Three years into the job, however, Williams came to realize that kids at the juvenile center were mostly products of their environments. That's when he decided to join the police force.
"I started to see the impact that communities have," Williams said. "These kids started to come in at 13, 14, for all kinds of things. I enjoyed it immensely because children are our future, but I wanted to do more than just that."
Williams said he can help more people as a police officer than he did at the juvenile center.
As a cop, he's a good Samaritan, but his compassion goes beyond his work and into his personal life. Williams has been with Tamisha Morton for eight years. They have two children, Lathen and Layla, and plan to marry next summer.
"I mean, he's always been a really caring person," Morton said. "I have been through a lot in my life, and he's definitely changed it for the better. Without him, I don't know what my life would be like.
"As an officer, he can do a lot more to help those kids," Morton said. "He has more authority to help those kids."
Williams' beat encompasses parts of east and south Columbia. It includes the airport, Bearfield Road and Keene Street.
Even though Clark Lane isn't exactly in his beat, it is nearby, so he often takes calls there to help his colleagues.
"He is extremely professional and thorough," Larimer said. "He cares about every case he works, and he likes to leave them in a better place than they were in when they had to call him."
Williams started working the 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift in February. He doesn't mind, but said one of the downfalls is that there are fewer opportunities to interact with people. His philosophy of community- and relationship-building continues to drive his police work, though.
It's just what he does
On a recent Sunday night, Williams made a routine traffic stop when he spotted a car with a headlight out on Nifong Boulevard. He got out of his squad car and approached the driver, Jared Kirschner, to find him close to tears. Williams didn't have to think about how to handle the situation.
Instead of writing him a ticket or arresting him — Kirschner also was driving without a license — Williams simply listened to his story. Kirschner said he had lost his first wife to cancer, and his second wife just had her leg amputated.
"I needed somebody to talk to," Kirschner said after their conversation. "I'm really going through a lot, and I'm 39 years old, and I've had so many people die in my life that I love. It's like I've become a caretaker, after caretaker, after caretaker. I can't win."
Kirschner cried as he detailed his life experiences and told Williams of his plans for the future. He had a plane ticket to go to Florida the next morning without his wife, and he planned to never return.
Kirschner appreciated Williams for taking the time to hear him out. "There aren't many cops like him in the Columbia Police Department," he said.
Williams reassured Kirschner he would be there if he ever needed him.
"It sounds like you're at a point in your life where you've experienced so much," Williams told Kirschner, then he did what he's in the habit of doing. "Let me give you my card."
After following Kirschner home to ensure he got there safely, Williams gave him a hug.
Then he got back in his car and looked for someone else to help.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.