Ex-SWAT commander is new head of security


Photo credit Angela Qiu

Chris Clayton poses outside Robinson.

With the influx of new faculty and staff members, the amiable Chris Clayton has slipped into his post as the new head of Westminster security with relatively little commotion. Clayton’s low-key entrance is a sharp contrast with his high-octane career prior to taking over at Westminster. Strong and tall with a conversational disposition, Clayton could be mistaken for a new P.E. teacher. Given his friendly and personable manner, it would be hard to guess that for years he was the commander of a SWAT team.

Clayton retired from the Cobb County Sheriff’s office in 2008 but found himself bored within only nine months, after which he served a brief stint as safety and security director at Northside Hospital. Finding that unsuitable as well, he left again before stumbling across the Westminster job.

“This [Westminster] was more of a fit for me because it’s all about security. Everything I do is about security,” said Clayton. “I’m constantly aware of everything that’s going on around me… so to be here with so many people here and me being responsible for their security, it’s what I do. I do security.”

From 1997 to 2008, Clayton was employed by the Cobb County Sheriff’s office. For the last 19 years of his tenure he served as the commander of the operations division.

“Everybody that’s in uniform, all the detectives, fall under the operations division. At first I was commander at the rank of major,” said Clayton. “By the time I retired I was a colonel. I was the operations division’s commander and the SWAT team commander.”

Born and raised in Cobb county, Clayton’s decision to go in to law enforcement was influenced by Cobb county police officers.

“I dated a girl in high school and her daddy was a Cobb county policeman and one of my cousins became a Cobb county policeman,” said Clayton. “I always had an interest in it, so that kind of pushed it along.”

Although the term “commander” suggests a role dedicated more to planning than to action, Clayton went on every SWAT call.

“A lot of people get the misunderstanding that if you’re a SWAT  team commander you’re the guy who stays at the truck and tells everyone what to do,” said Clayton. “Every door they went in, I went in. Every entry they made, I made.”

Unsurprisingly, Clayton’s role as commander of operations came with significant stress.

“The planning part [of SWAT calls] was stressful because…you know whatever decisions you make here they [the team] will follow your decisions to the letter,” said Clayton. “And if you don’t decide right… they’ll follow those decisions as well because they’re trained to do exactly what they’re told.”

The presence of innocents such as hostages or children in a targeted house was also a stressor for Clayton.

“A lot of times in your drug houses there would be children. Mommy and Daddy were big-time drug dealers and they’d have 3- or 5-year-old children who were completely innocent… That creates a level of stress,” said Clayton. “When you’re fixing to bring all this force to bear on this place and there are children in the way, you’ve got to hope that your training is so good that you can take care of all the problems without damaging or injuring the innocent people.”

Despite the formidable stress created by the high stakes nature of the job, there were many parts of it that Clayton found fulfilling. The atmosphere within the SWAT unit was particularly special for Clayton.

“The most fulfilling part of the job was to see the accomplishments of the team as a team,” said Clayton. “As you trained them, you watched young guys become the best that they could possibly be. You got to see them come from a few years out of high school to become as good as they were. They were the best of the best.”

Of course, Clayton was also proud of the instances in which the SWAT team helped people in need.

“Any time you were able to help anybody [was fulfilling], especially if it was a rescue situation. When you saw all the training that you did resulted in somebody’s life being saved or somebody being taken out of danger, all the training and all the stuff you went through all those years was well worth it,” said Clayton. “That part was very rewarding.”

According to Clayton, the adjustment to the Westminster job has been seamless. This is due, in part, to the quality of people Clayton has encountered.

“The friendliness of everyone [has been striking], the teachers the students, everybody is very respectful-just good people,” said Clayton. “It’s a lot easier to do your job-when your job is securing people, and when they’re good people.”

Reverend Ricardo Bailey, a Westminster Bible teacher and certified police chaplain in Fulton county and Alpharetta, is pleased and impressed that Westminster has been able to add a former SWAT team commander to the staff.

“From what I’ve read and from what they said at the faculty forum, I think he’s defintetly cool…. I have a lot of respect for police officers,” said Bailey, “and with him being a former SWAT captain, that man is  very impressive.”