Athens Police Chief Wayne Harper won’t miss the crime he has seen over the past four decades, but he will miss the people and the colleagues he has befriended.
After nearly 46 years in law enforcement, including 23 years as head of the Athens department, he will retire Jan. 1, 2012.
“I had been thinking about it for a while and just decided it was time,” Harper said Friday. “It’s a tough decision. I still enjoy going to work, so I’m not really raring to go, but I would like to leave while my health is good and I can do things. My wife, Vonette, wanted me to retire for a while now. She looks forward to traveling. She has been very supportive of me.”
He will miss the people who have come to be his work family.
“I started in law enforcement when I had just turned 21, so I am going to miss people,” he said. “When you work, you spend more time with the people you work with than you do your family, so I know I am going to miss people. I have hired most of those who are here. I have gone to weddings and seen babies born and grandkids born and they are almost like a family.”
Harper grew up in Jefferson County, in the Midfield area, and graduated from Hueytown High School. He earned an associate’s degree in law-enforcement from Jefferson State College and a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Montevallo.
In February 1965 — about two years after Birmingham’s commissioner of public safety used water cannons and dogs on black Civil Rights demonstrators and after someone had killed four black girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church — Harper joined the Birmingham Police Department.
“The problems were winding down by the time I came on board,” Harper said.
He found his career in the city and in law-enforcement, retiring as a police lieutenant from the department then accepting the chief’s job in Athens in May 1988.
Athens, he said, could not have been more welcoming.
“I just appreciate how everyone treated us over the years,” Harper said of the community. “We came up here with our youngest, not knowing a soul, and everybody just sort of adopted us. We never felt like strangers. Everyone was so nice. We have really enjoyed it — not just the department but the whole community and the area.”