CORNELIUS – Bence Hoyle said even if he hadn’t been ready to retire from his position as Cornelius police chief, he would likely still have opted to return to the town where he started the role at age 26.
“If Huntersville hadn’t given me a shot, none of this would have happened,” Hoyle said of his more than 33 years in law enforcement, including 12 leading the Cornelius department. “Yes, I’m coming full circle, but I owe Huntersville everything. I wouldn’t pass up this opportunity at all.”
Earlier this month, the Town of Cornelius announced Hoyle’s long-planned retirement would take place at the end of the year. By complete coincidence, Hoyle said, the Town of Huntersville hired him as interim police chief shortly after. He’ll begin Jan. 4 to fill in following the resignation of Huntersville Chief of Police Cleveland Spruill who is leaving to pursue other career opportunities.
“I’m excited,” Hoyle said. “I know the chief well. It’s a good department.”
This isn’t the first time Hoyle has been coaxed back to the job.
He served in Huntersville 1988-99, leaving to work in the private sector in computer forensics because he was one of only a few who had the skill, having taught himself.
Members of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, of which Hoyle later became president, convinced him to return.
“Huntersville and Cornelius (police chief roles) weren’t open, and those are two of the best police chief jobs in the state,” he said of why he initially hesitated before becoming chief in Mount Holly and other N.C. towns.
But he was excited to get back to the north Mecklenburg area when he started in Cornelius in 2007.
“They are transparent,” he said. “They’ve also afforded me the opportunity to say what I think. … And the community is very supportive in Cornelius and Huntersville.”
Hoyle is grateful for all of the Cornelius town staff and officials he’s worked with who have let him “think outside the box.”
When he approached them about putting a town-wide camera system to heighten security, he was allowed to purchase the equipment and a bucket truck as well as hire an installer.
“That’s not heard of,” he said. “I knew I wanted 100-plus cameras, but 60 percent of the cost is in labor. We didn’t have the money. The installer can do it, and the (installer’s) other work is to search camera (footage) for evidence.”
Jeff Tarte worked with Hoyle both as Cornelius mayor and N.C. senator and said with the cameras and other initiatives, Hoyle has created an environment that is more preventative rather than just enforcement.
Hoyle’s technical skills also have people from all over the state looking at Cornelius as the model for technology.
“He’s truly a class act,” Tarte said. “Everybody looks up to him. He’s a great leader.”
Hoyle credits town officials and Mecklenburg County for working with his department for the Lake Patrol and swim beach initiatives, which both required solving problems that crossed jurisdictions.
And when Cornelius residents, including Don and Bridget Rainey, formed the Top Deck Foundation to support the police department and improve morale, Hoyle was supportive.
“He’s been remarkably kind and in touch with the citizens and officers and staff,” Don Rainey said. “We are grateful to have him as a leader and have enjoyed working with him.”
In addition to the residents, officials and officers who make him love his job, Hoyle credits his wife, Melanie, for being there for him when times were stressful and for “putting me in my place.”
“I’m very proud of him,” she said. “I try not to worry. He wants to do a good job and help people, and I try to support him as best I can.”
Hoyle said he is leaving the Cornelius Police Department in the good hands of Maj. Kevin Black, who will take over as police chief and has been preparing for the new role through education, training and hands-on experience.
“He’s worked so hard, and we’ve been doing transitioning since early June. I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Hoyle said of why he changed his retirement date from next June to the end of this year so as not to hold up all of the promotions that will take place after he leaves.
Betsy Shores, who served as his assistant and had other roles in the department before becoming Davidson town clerk, said Hoyle was always supportive of her professional growth.
“I’m excited he’ll be staying in the north Mecklenburg area and that his leadership is staying here,” she said.
Lt. Tony Sharpe, who has worked under Hoyle all 12 years, also said Hoyle wants what’s best for employees.
“He’s been a very kind and compassionate chief,” Sharpe said. “He’s a very caring chief and understanding. He’s been approachable, and that’s the best thing. … He’s been a mentor to a lot of the officers in the agency. He’s going to be missed.”
And while society’s view on police officers has evolved in other parts of the country and retaining local officers remains a struggle, Hoyle still encourages youth to join the force.
“If I was 12 and knew everything I know now, I’d still find a way to figure out how to do it,” he said. “It’s a hard job. There are things I’ll never be able to get out of my head, but you help people, and it’s service-oriented. It’s about personal wealth.
“When I’m 80 years old and go out to a town – any town – and I see a police car, I’ll say, ‘Yeah, that’s one of my boys right there,’ or girls.”