Shot at but never shot down, Bill Dwyer discusses his career

By: Gena Johnson | Warren Weekly | Published April 1, 2024

 “For a long time in southeastern Michigan the chief (Dwyer) has been the godfather of narcotics investigations,”  said Plymouth Township Police  Chief James Knittel Jr.

“For a long time in southeastern Michigan the chief (Dwyer) has been the godfather of narcotics investigations,” said Plymouth Township Police Chief James Knittel Jr.

Photo provided by Sonja Buffa

 “A leader that cares about the  men and women in blue and cares about serving and protecting the residents,”  said Dwyer about the way he would  like to be remembered.

“A leader that cares about the men and women in blue and cares about serving and protecting the residents,” said Dwyer about the way he would like to be remembered.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes


WARREN — Those who worked with now-former Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer say he’s a “legend” of law enforcement and the “godfather of narcotics investigations.”

At 21 years old, Dwyer had been working in construction with his father in the spring, summer and fall months after graduating from high school. The young, married man wanted to find work. He answered an ad in the newspaper, which was the way many looked for jobs then.

“The Detroit police were hiring police officers. I went down and applied and made it,” Dwyer said. “That’s how I became a police officer.”

In November of 1962, Dwyer became a patrol officer, and the rest is history.

He started walking the beat in Detroit and worked his way up the ranks.

In Detroit, he worked on teams targeting vice, organized crime and was in charge of the narcotics division for seven years.

“I had 180 officers that conducted narcotic raids in the city. We had ten raids every day,” Dwyer said. “It was the most dangerous job there is.”

In spite of the danger, Dwyer stayed safe.

“I haven’t been shot. I’ve been shot at.  I was never wounded. I was shot at during the riots of ’67. I’ve been on narcotic raids where I was shot at,” Dwyer said. “So I’ve seen a lot. But I’ve been very fortunate.”

Dwyer worked on many drug busts.

“We went to Reynosa, Mexico and deep in the interior of Culiacan and Durango. I actually got the lab where they were processing the opium (shut down),” Dwyer said.

“He is a living legend. He started working with another legend (Mayor) Coleman Young (in Detroit),” said former Warren Mayor James Fouts. “He helped Coleman bust the drug cartel in Mexico and worked with him closely.”

Plymouth Township Police Chief James Knittel Jr. said, “For a longtime in southeastern Michigan the chief (Dwyer) has been the godfather of narcotics investigations.”

Knittel ran narcotics at the Farmington Hills Police Department and worked with Dwyer more than 20 years after Dwyer hired him as a cadet in 1987.

Dwyer spent 23 years with the Detroit Police Department and retired as a commander, chief of staff.

He then went to Farmington Hills as the city’s chief of police where he implemented community policing programs that served as a cornerstone of his leadership.

“Community policing is something I have cherished in my career in Farmington Hills for 23 years,” Dwyer said. “It really brings the community and the police department together in a very personal way.”

Knittel embraced community policing.

“We were recognized nationally for our community policing programs in Farmington Hills. I was proud to be a part of that,” Knittel said. “The chief started that. We had about 60 different policing outreach programs.”

Among those programs were “Shop with a Cop,” where officers took kids from needy families shopping during the Christmas holiday, and “Adopt a Senior,” where officers did wellness checks on seniors and took them places. The department also partnered with the school districts by assigning a resource officer.

According to Knittel, those programs and others were started in Farmington Hills by Dwyer. He continued those programs while he was at the Warren Police Department.

“Chief Dwyer was always very proactive,” Knittel said. “And he always made sure the community and community needs came first.”

Knittel shared some of Dwyer’s strategies that he emulates today.

“The chief always made a point to be very involved with task forces,” Knittel said. “It is like having a force multiplier. If we needed assistance from the FBI, or Drug Enforcement Administration or the (Bureau of) Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Farmington Hills, the chief made sure he knew those folks before issues happened. That is something I take with me.”

Many described Dwyer as transparent.

“He was very open with the public. If somebody came in and they wanted to talk with the chief, they got to talk to the chief,” Knittel said. “That doesn’t always happen.”

Among Dwyer’s many accomplishments he counts among the most rewarding was counseling parents of children struggling with addiction.

“I counseled a lot of parents that have had problems with their children in addiction,” Dwyer said. “I really took the time to explain it is not their fault. It’s a disease.”

The Farmington Hills Police and Fire Benevolent Association is a program Dwyer started and holds near and dear to his heart.

“This started when I lost two young officers who succumbed to cancer with two young children,” Dwyer said. “They did not have enough time with the department for health care for their wives and children.”

He remains the first and only president of the organization. According to Dwyer, the Association has given away more than $1 million and has $1 million. They have an annual golf fundraiser where, according to Dwyer, everything raised goes into the fund for the families in need.

“He is a man of the highest integrity and he brought that to work every single day. Nobody worked harder than Chief Dwyer,” Knittel said.  “He was the first guy in the building and a lot of times the last guy to leave. He led by example. It was something that I look at and try to do the same thing in my position as a police chief.”

Berkley Public Safety Director Matt Koehn was hired by Dwyer in 1986 as a cadet in Farmington Hills.

“I learned a lot from him over my career. When he retired and went to Warren, I was a lieutenant in administration, so I had worked with him very closely on a daily basis for the last several years of his career in Farmington Hills,” Koehn said.

“He would ask about my wife and my kids. He actually kept up to speed with how many kids I had,” said Koehn, a father of 10.

Dwyer retired from the Farmington Hills Police Department after 23 years. He later served eight years as an Oakland County Commissioner.

He served two stints in Warren, first from 2008 to 2010. Then, at the request of Mayor Fouts, Dwyer came back in 2017 and remained at his post until March 5, 2024, when current Mayor Lori Stone terminated him.

“I hired him twice,” Fouts said. “He took a lot of initiative doing things that no other police commissioner had ever done.

Under Dwyer’s leadership, the Warren Police Department became an accredited agency. According to Dwyer, the process took two years. Now, Warren is the largest city in Michigan with police accreditation.

Other accomplishments of Dwyer’s leadership include the use of Narcan kits by patrol officers to deliver naloxone and save lives in the event of an opioid overdose.

“This saved scores of lives, maybe even hundreds of lives who have been overtaken by fentanyl and Narcan brought them back,” Fouts said. “He started the Macomb County drug task force committee. They did a lot to put a dent in the drug cartel in Macomb County.”

Dwyer implemented other initiatives that included bringing K-9s back to the department. He took over the police department’s hiring of officers and dispatchers from the city’s Human Resources Department. This was done so positions could be filled quickly and reflect the diversity of the city, according to Dwyer.  In addition to building advancements and use of technology, he also implemented officers wearing body cams.

“By installing the body cameras that reduced false complaints against the police department by 40%,” Fouts said.

Fouts continued his praise for Dwyer.

“I think it is possible that he could be determined to be one of the best police commissioners of all times or maybe even the best.” Fouts said.

Dwyer was elected to the Farmington Hills City Council in November 2023, where he said recently he was at a meeting until 12:30 a.m.

What’s next for the busy councilman? If there is something, he will announce it later.

“He’s awesome and he keeps going,” said Dave Dwyer, Bill Dwyer’s son and a freshman Warren city councilman, elected to serve the city at-large and also the mayor pro tem.

Bill Dwyer reflected on how he would like to be remembered.

“A leader that cares about the men and women in blue and cares about serving and protecting the residents of whatever area I am in. A person that is professional, has high integrity and a high commitment to the community that I serve and the communities I have served,” Dwyer said.