In February 2022, Pittsboro resident Tracy Kelly quietly made history when she was promoted to Chief Deputy of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.
Although becoming a chief deputy is an impressive career step for any law enforcement professional, Kelly is unique in that she is the first female chief deputy and the most senior woman in the sheriff’s office. of Chatham County has seen for over 100 years; only Sheriff Mary Myrtle Siler, North Carolina’s first female state sheriff, rose to a higher rank when she was appointed Sheriff of Chatham County in 1920.
“It’s amazing to reach this landmark. It’s always been a goal for me to get to this level, and it took a lot of determination and focus to get there,” Kelly said. haven’t been blessed with a female role model in my career in law enforcement, so at times I had to navigate my way. I’ve always sought to better myself through education , professional certifications or positions of increasing responsibility, and I am honored to take this next step.
“Tracy Kelly was named chief deputy because she is the right person for the job and has a long history of effective leadership,” Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson said. “She earned each promotion through demonstrated leadership, unwavering commitment and years of great personal sacrifice. She has always proven to be shrewd, decisive and capable of completing any task given to her. I am exceptionally proud of her and look forward to seeing her flourish in this new role.
During his nearly 20-year career with the Chatham County Sheriff‘s Office, Kelly served at every rank, breaking down barriers at every step along the way; she made history in 2018 when she became the first woman in agency history to reach the rank of major. On challenging the status quo, Kelly says she hopes to inspire others to do the same.
“For anyone with big ambitions, don’t let fear hold you back… Set your goals high and stay committed to your dreams. Hard work pays off.” she said. “I may be the first female chief deputy in the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, but I hope I’m not the last.”
Kelly attributes his resilience as a leader to his willingness to grow and adapt to changing circumstances. The key, she says, is learning from failures as well as successes along the way.
“Each position has challenged me and helped me grow in different ways as a law enforcement professional and leader. Every experience I’ve had, positive or negative, has taught me something valuable that I can take home with me,” Kelly says. “I’ve never had two days exactly the same, and that’s part of the reason I was drawn to law enforcement as a career field.”
Kelly shares that she was first drawn to the idea of serving her community while growing up in McDowell County in western North Carolina. She began her journey with the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office before moving to Chatham County in 1994. After the move, she took a job with the Carrboro Police Department and was later invited to join the family of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office in 2002.
Kelly says she remains extremely grateful to the many mentors who have inspired and guided her as she has gained knowledge and experience over her 28 years in the profession. She hopes to be able to do the same for the next generation of officers and serve as a role model for those around her.
“I want to be remembered for helping employees achieve their goals, nurturing good relationships with other departments and offices, and having a positive impact on the residents we serve,” Kelly said. “It’s not specifically that I want to be remembered…but rather the impact of my efforts to make the Sheriff’s Office the best it can be for the public and the employees who work here.”
One of the ways Kelly advocates on behalf of employees is by being a strong supporter of mental health and wellness services for law enforcement professionals.
“Mental health awareness is such an important area and is especially important in law enforcement. It would be great to see more mental health professionals specializing in treating first responders,” Kelly said. “The stress in this job can be overwhelming, and it helps to have access to mental health resources and professionals who understand the specific stressors that first responders face.”
Sheriff’s Office Lt. Sara Pack says staff members have a deep respect and admiration for Kelly because of her reputation for honesty, sound judgment and getting results.
“Tracy Kelly is incredibly driven, but always puts the well-being of others before her own. She is never too busy to check on staff members or lend an ear when they need someone to talk to,” Pack said “Tracy is direct, dependable and genuinely compassionate when staff members are having personal or professional difficulties. She picks people up when they fall.”
Kelly agrees that the most valuable thing leaders can do is make themselves available to their team: “Leaders should also be a resource for employees. It’s important to show your staff that they can talk to you and feel heard and supported,” says Kelly. “While I am proud and delighted to be appointed Deputy Chief, I also feel an increased sense of responsibility to care for our staff. I will continue to lead by example and support employees to the best of my abilities.
“Tracy is an awesome, professional, hardworking officer and dear friend. She took a huge leap of faith to join the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office all those years ago, but she’s made the agency a better place since the day she walked in the door,’ said the Retired Sheriff Richard Webster, who noticed Kelly’s superior work ethic while she was still working for the Carrboro Police Department, said. “The day I heard she was made chef, I smiled and thought, ‘Bravo! Well deserved!’…She’s a great role model and I couldn’t be happier for her.
Indeed, Kelly is an impressive example for law enforcement professionals far beyond the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office. She holds a Masters in Administration of Justice, a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice, an Associate’s Degree in Basic Law Enforcement Training and Advanced Certificates in Law Enforcement from Standards Commissions. education and training for sheriffs and criminal justice. Kelly has won a Meritorious Achievement Award, numerous Certificates of Appreciation, and the Sheriff’s Office Community Service Award for her volunteerism to benefit the residents of Chatham County.
Outside of the office, Kelly serves as a specialty driving instructor for cadets in basic law enforcement training. Regarding his passion for teaching and his reasons for specializing in driving, Kelly says, “Driving is one of the most important responsibilities we have in law enforcement, not just to ourselves, but also for the public. I wanted to help educate future assistants or officers in essential driving skills.
She emphasizes that driving is a life-threatening activity and cadets should understand the possible consequences of driving faster than they can safely move based on environmental conditions and their individual level of training.
“Law enforcement is one of the most varied and rewarding career fields…There are so many different options to choose from. If you want to give back to your community, this is a great way to do it, but we have to strive to do it in the safest way possible,” says Kelly. “It’s important to know our own limits and to remember that we are all human and capable of making mistakes… Putting on a uniform doesn’t change that.”
Kelly says she hopes to continue to highlight the humanity of the law enforcement professionals behind the badge during her tenure as chief: “I want the public to know me as a person, not just as a that ‘Deputy Chief Kelly’… I want them to recognize me as ‘Tracy’ – the avid reader and kayaker who enjoys gardening, biking and cross-stitching. Like most residents, I cherish my family and am passionate about my work and my hobbies, we all have so much more in common than we think, we just have to find that common thread and keep moving forward.