CARY, N.C. — When Cary's police chief turned in his resignation last week, it took nearly everyone by surprise.
Scott Cunningham, who has held the position for the past two and a half years, gave no specific reason for his departure. On Thursday, he talked publicly for the first time since he made the announcement.
When Cunningham moved to Cary in 2005, it wasn't just for the job of police chief.
“We came to this area because we liked the area,” he said. “It’s a fantastic place to raise a family. That has not changed.”
But as the head of a 200-member department, something changed for Cunningham. He plans to step down Dec. 23. He says he never expected his career as Cary police chief to end so soon.
"There was never any intent to come here, be here a couple of years and move on. That was not the plan at all,” he said. "If it really worked out, we would retire here."
Cunningham declined to comment on whether there was any friction or disagreements between him and the man who hired him, Cary Town Manager Bill Coleman. Cunningham acknowledged there is a give-and-take with department budget and priorities.
"Not everything we're asking for we're going to get. I do personally believe that everything we ask for is a need,” he said.
Under Cunningham's leadership, the department added 20 officers and installed cameras and cages in patrol cars. He established a new computer crimes unit, and Cary's sex offender management program has won national accolades.
“It’s enhancements. We took a very good foundation and we’re constantly building,” he said. “I think the specifics of why I’m leaving and that type of thing, while there is interest and concern, I think the agency is positioned so it can continue on where we’ve gone.”
But Cunningham sees challenges ahead. Violent crimes are down, yet property crimes are up, partly because of Cary's growing population. He said he also believes gangs are an issue in Cary and he advocated prevention.
“Sometimes people want to portray a community in the best light they can, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it can’t be to the detriment of the future of the community,” he said.
Even though his career in Cary didn’t work out the way he hoped, Cunningham said he wants to stay. So do his wife and three sons.
Cunningham said he wants to stay in law enforcement, but he is also considering teaching and consulting. He said he has no regrets about his experience.
"I think I've done the best job that can be done,” he said. “I've no regrets about any things I've advocated for or said.”
Cunningham did offer a piece of advice for his successor: "They need to make the decision that some things are worth pushing for, some things right now aren't, but that doesn't diminish the need for them at some point."
Cary's town manager and town council members declined to comment on the chief's departure.
Cunningham was sworn in as Cary police chief in August 2005. He was previously the assistant police chief of the Tampa Police Department in Florida.
Assistant Chief Pat Bazemore will serve as interim chief during the search for the new chief. She was a finalist when Cunningham was ultimately hired.