Hail to the ChiefJan 01, 2020 ● By Lisa Ferguson
That was also the month David Shilson joined the Frisco Police Department as an officer. In the nearly two decades since, his life has also changed dramatically. Having served in several positions within the department, including as a lieutenant in administrative services and deputy chief over the investigations, services and operations bureaus, last fall, he was named Frisco’s new chief of police. “I have been a part of managing change and improving this department in every capacity that I have served in. I will continue that focus,” he shares shortly after stepping into the force’s most visible role. “I have inherited a great department. I intend to keep it that way and make it better any way that I can.”
Chief Shilson grew up in Houston with “an admiration for law enforcement. I always kind of had an interest in it.” When his older brother, James, landed “on the wrong side of the law,” he was exposed to first responders. “I always had a really good, positive interaction with police officers.”
He was simultaneously enrolled at Blinn College in Brenham (from which he earned an associate degree in criminal justice) and Texas A&M University. He also interned with the College Station Police Department. Upon graduating from Texas A&M with a political science degree, “There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to apply to be a police officer.” He was hired as a patrol officer (“Essentially, you are a problem-solver all day long,” he says), and eventually became a community services officer. Among his responsibilities were teaching drug-abuse prevention lessons to kids and working at community-outreach events.
At the time, Chief Shilson and his wife, Jana, had been considering a move to Frisco, where his mother lived. In 2002, while attending a crime-prevention class in San Marcos, he met a sergeant from the Frisco Police Department and, a few months later, scheduled a “ride out” in hopes of getting a better glimpse of the agency. The small-town atmosphere here “was very different than what I was used to in College Station, where we pretty much went from one call to the next,” he recalls. That evening in Frisco, “We went to a high school football game and talked to some people there for a while. I think we maybe took one call.”
What also appealed to him was the potential for promotions that existed within the burgeoning department. “I thought it was a good opportunity to maybe get involved in some specialized units. Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned us growing as fast as we did and having the opportunities to do some of the things that I have been able to do.” Nor did he plan on eventually becoming the top cop. “Being the chief was not on the radar,” he explains.
Over the years, Chief Shilson, who also holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Texas at Arlington, has played key roles in the development and implementation of several police department programs. He spearheaded 2014’s Closest to Dispatch program, which saw the department’s engineering and IT departments, among others, collaborate to successfully reduce response times by automatically sending the nearest police unit when calls for service are received. As the deputy chief of investigations, he partnered with school resource officers at Frisco ISD campuses on a campaign to tackle the issue of vaping and e-cigarette use among students.
His time spent as a traffic division sergeant was one of the “defining moments of my career,” he says. Following the 2004 death of his brother in a motorcycle accident, “I was really sympathetic to those families who lost loved ones in a traffic crash, and I really felt like we (in law enforcement) owed it to them to try to get as many answers through our accident investigations as we could. I think there was a reason I was put there. It really did allow me to have a different perspective and develop a passion for what I was doing.”
As Frisco Police chief, he says, residents and visitors will “continue to see the quality of service” that the department has always provided. “What I tell new officers all the time is, when we respond to calls for service, we want to treat those individuals how we would expect our family members to be treated if we were in the same predicament,” he explains. “How would you want your loved ones to be greeted by the police if they were involved in a traffic crash or if they were the victim of a crime? I think by starting there, it is always going to lead you to great service.”
Frisco City Manager George Purefoy says the city received “overwhelming input” from citizens and police department personnel before selecting a new chief following the resignation of former Chief John Bruce last spring. “The community support was centered around the great relationship which the department has established with all segments of our city,” Mr. Purefoy shares. Meanwhile, the majority of police department employees backed Chief Shilson “because of the confidence they have in his leadership and a desire to stay on the current track of community involvement by the department.”
Under his watch, 43-year-old Chief Shilson says Frisco officers will remain well-trained “and equipped to respond to whatever might come our way. In Frisco, we have a lot of venues. We focus a lot of time and attention on the safety of those venues,” with deployment teams that protect the city’s dining, shopping and entertainment corridors. “If you come to eat at a restaurant or go to The Star or Toyota Stadium, we want you to leave here having had a good experience, not a call for service because your car got broken into.”
Chief Shilson is also dedicated to helping maintain the health and wellness of the Frisco Police Department’s first responders. “They are confronted with a lot of traumatic things just in the course of their day-to-day duties. I have to make sure, as chief, that we are taking care of our officers and emergency dispatchers by providing them with tools (such as peer support, counseling services and fitness opportunities) to make sure they are equipped to deal with that trauma, so that we can keep not just their professional life in order, but their home life in order.”
Chief Shilson also knows firsthand the importance of exercise. As an avid runner, he logs about 15 miles per week and plans to compete again this spring in Frisco’s Texas Big Star half-marathon. Running is “great stress relief. I am just hooked on it.” He also enjoys coaching the sports teams of his 14-year-old son, Jacob, and seven-year-old daughter, Hadley. The Shilsons, who attend Hope Fellowship Church’s Frisco West campus, frequent the Frisco Family YMCA where Jana, an FISD middle-school teacher, leads fitness classes.
As a longtime Frisco resident, Chief Shilson says he is just as invested in the safety of our community as others who call the city home. As chief, “I think it absolutely helps to be able to relate to some of the challenges and concerns citizens have.”