The head of the State Highway Patrol is stepping down, as expected with the new administration in state government.
Col. Michael Gilchrist, who has been the commander since October 2010, will retire effective Friday. His second in command, Lt. Col. Gary Bell, pictured at right, will serve as acting commander until a final choice is made.
Kieran Shanahan, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety, issued a statement Tuesday praising Bell’s qualifications for the job, noting he has risen through the ranks over the past 27 years.
“Bell has a breadth of experience and demonstrated leadership skills that make him well-suited for this assignment,” Shanahan said. “I have confidence in Commander Bell’s abilities and am grateful for his willingness to serve.”
Bell has overseen field operations statewide for the past two years. Before that, he ran the professional standards section of the SHP. He has also commanded an 11-county region in the south central and southeastern part of the state. Bell is a native of Whiteville.
Shanahan thanked Gilchrist for his service, and noted the difficulties of running a law enforcement agency that has been tarnished by a series of misconduct dating back nearly 20 years. An outside firm was commissioned to study the patrol, and Gov. Bev Perdue appointed a panel to come up with ways to restore public confidence in the agency.
Neither reviews found widespread problems with the SHP, although the governor’s panel recommended hiring a commander outside the patrol’s ranks.
Gilchrist initiated two plans to repair the agency’s image: improved software to track complaints and policy violations involving troopers, and requiring more extensive ethics training.
“He took the lead at a challenging time for the patrol and he has managed the position with integrity and professionalism” Shanahan said of Gilchrist.