Archived News

A new calling: Respected Waynesville PD lieutenant leaves law enforcement in his prime

Trantham (right) speaks to demonstrators before a Black Lives Matter march in Waynesville on June 1, 2020. Cory Vaillancourt photo Trantham (right) speaks to demonstrators before a Black Lives Matter march in Waynesville on June 1, 2020. Cory Vaillancourt photo

Amid a tough time for law enforcement when stories about good officers leaving the profession dominate headlines, the Waynesville Police Department is losing one of its most experienced and respected officers. But while many leave law enforcement due to burnout or poor workplace culture, Lt. Tyler Trantham’s exit is different — it’s a matter of faith.

On July 9, Trantham, 41, announced he was going to stop working full-time at the Waynesville Police Department in a social media post. His announcement came as a surprise to many, given his commitment to his chosen profession. Even his boss, Chief David Adams, was caught off guard. 

“I was shocked,” Adams said. “I hate to lose somebody of that caliber.”

But Trantham said that after much deliberation and prayer, he knew it was the right choice. 

“You know, all I ever wanted to be was a detective … But God’s asked me to lay down something I love,” Trantham said. “After a lot of wrestling with Him, I felt very clear that this is just what He was asking me to do.” 

A destiny fulfilled 

Trantham knew he wanted to be in law enforcement throughout his childhood in Haywood County even well before graduating from Tuscola High School in 1999. After an internship with WPD, he got a scholarship through the North Carolina Police Corps under the agreement that he would go to the police academy once he finished college. Initially, he was hired on at the Jacksonville, North Carolina Police Department. After a couple of years there, an opportunity opened for him to come home. 

Related Items

For Trantham, WPD felt like where he’d always belonged, and he relished the opportunity to serve the community he grew up in. It was, after all, the whole reason he became a cop. 

“There’s obviously challenges. You sometimes have to arrest your neighbors or family,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s any greater reward. To be able to ride around the same streets that you literally rode your bicycle on when you were a kid — it’s been a dream.”

While Trantham was happy to patrol familiar roads, his goal was to become a detective. After just over a year, quicker than many younger officers, he was assigned to the criminal investigative division (CID). In 2012, he was promoted to sergeant and went back to patrol for about two and half years before a CID sergeant position became available. Shortly after that, he was promoted to Lieutenant and headed up the special operations division, which consists of narcotics investigations, the tactical unit and the special response team. In 2019, amid a command restructuring, he became the lieutenant over CID. 

When Trantham was growing up, the two things he wanted out of life was to become a detective in his hometown and to start a family. Within about a month after moving back to Haywood County, Trantham met his wife, Rachel. Now, the couple has three kids, and this August they’ll be celebrating their 15th anniversary. 

One of the toughest things for anyone to learn as they advance in law enforcement — or any field for that matter — is how to be an effective and fair leader. Trantham said he was fortunate to learn from Bill Hollingsed, his mentor who served as Waynesville Police Chief from 1999 to 2019. 

“He always made it an effort to say ‘I’m gonna give you this opportunity to lead and I’m gonna trust you with it,’” Trantham said of Hollingsed. “And whether that means making mistakes or being able to think outside the box about how to address issues, I can’t help but think that he had a huge influence on my drive to dive into things.”

fr trantham2

Trantham earlier in his career enjoying a moment with his daughter, Abby. Donated photo

A new direction 

A few weeks ago, Trantham gave Chief Adams his notice that he was going to leave his role leading CID. Adams said that as of now, Trantham will remain on part-time status performing certain auxiliary tasks like maintaining the department’s Facebook page. 

Trantham said there had a been a “tug” at his heart for a while and that he’d had many conversations with trusted friends and family about the big decision. After much contemplation and a “few conversations with the Almighty,” the time was right. 

While Trantham wouldn’t speak specifically to his family’s next step on the record, he did talk about his reason for leaving. He immediately referenced his faith, saying he believed God called him to make this move. But that doesn’t mean it was easy to be obedient.  

“We’re in the middle of a recession, and I’m gonna step away from a salary and a pension,” Trantham said. 

Looking back, Trantham said the toughest thing about working specifically in investigations was that he could never really be off the clock. Like other investigators, he took his cases home with him every night. 

“You’re thinking about that victim or you’re thinking about how to approach the next day or that interview that’s coming in or how you’re gonna catch this guy,” he said. 

While he said it’s true that the job leads to a sort of desensitization when it comes to seeing violence and trauma, there’s one thing that never gets any easier — death notifications — delivering what may be the toughest news a person will ever hear.  

“I can think back to specific moments, and almost like I’m there just because it leaves an imprint on you because you see the pain,” he said. 

Trantham said the rewards can often make the stress bearable. When asked what cases he remembers and takes the most pride in, he said it’s not the big arrests that bring him the most satisfaction; it’s the appreciation from the community, the card or letter sent from someone he’d helped so long ago that he may have even forgotten all about it. He said that while sometimes those acts feel routine, they can mean a lot to an individual. 

However, whether it’s a big arrest or a small deed that leaves a lasting impact on a community member, Trantham said there’s never much time for revelry. To quote Gen. George Patton, all glory is fleeting. As soon as a case is wrapped up, no matter how good or bad the result, another one is lying in wait. The job is never done. 

Trantham described how he felt once he took the leap and made the decision to step away from a job that has offered so many highs and lows. 

“I’m a passionate guy; that’s kind of been something that’s always fueled me,” he said. “But in that moment, there was just a lot of peace about it. I think that speaks to where the decision’s coming from. That whole peace beyond understanding is a real thing. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced it until that moment.” 

An expert on an unfortunate topic 

When Trantham leaves, he’ll take with him a wealth of knowledge about the homelessness and drug crises that are as complicated as they are divisive. Having studied those issues for well over a decade as he also encountered them on the streets, other law enforcement has recognized his expertise. For example, in an earlier interview, Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher noted that Trantham has his “finger on the pulse” of the homelessness issue better than anyone else in the community. 

For Trantham, that awareness began with noticing a change in the drug trade. He recalled that local law enforcement began “beating the drum” and calling attention to the developing problems as far back as 2007 when officers began seeing more prescription drug abuse. 

“Back in 2010, there were moments or days where we were probably looked at as ‘they’re just being cops, they’re paranoid, or they’re being a little overdramatic about what the problem is,’” he said. “But I really feel like we saw this thing coming.”

Now, the drug problem has become as dangerous as ever thanks to the proliferation of a new synthetic opioid far more powerful than anything they’d encountered before. 

“Fentanyl is a cheaper way to get opioids, and it’s easier to get,” Trantham said. “And of course, it’s much deadlier than what we’ve seen.”

Trantham said the homelessness crisis has evolved, too. While many earlier in his career may have been homeless, they were sheltered. Now, Trantham believes the majority are unsheltered, and he estimated those people tend to be 10-15 years younger than they were before. 

“I would argue that some of that has to do with the pretrial program where a lot of these individuals are repeat offenders, or they were bouncing house to house and place to place,” he said. “They found themselves just in that continuous cycle out here on the street. Whereas 15 years ago, we were dealing with maybe someone who was suffering from an alcohol issue or an occasional drug issue, I would say now it’s a drug issue 90% of the time.”

Trantham noted that the issue has picked up steam locally over the last few years but that concerned community members and leaders can look at other cities and states that have dealt with it for longer to see pros and cons of solutions they tried to implement. 

“I really think there is a way to solve it,” he said. “It’s just gonna take an effort. People are gonna have to meet in the middle on some things. That’s what this is about, coming to the same table with this common goal to solve the issue.”

When asked how he developed his intellectual approach to viewing the homelessness and drug problems and their potential solutions, Trantham initially hesitated to answer. 

“I think if you ask my teachers at Tuscola, they would probably laugh if I said I had an intellectual approach to anything,” he said with a laugh. “But I think you gotta educate yourself on problems, whatever that problem is. We as cops even, it’s important for us to educate ourselves, to figure out the ‘why.’ If you figure out the why, you can start developing an attack.”

Of course, no problem of that magnitude will be easy to solve. 

“We want quick fixes,” Trantham said. “I think we live in an instant gratification world. Even as government, we want quick fixes … This is not a quick fix. This is something we’re gonna have to dig our heels in and work toward for many, many years.”

Although Trantham is leaving law enforcement for now, that doesn’t mean his interest in the topic will diminish. He said he still has a great passion for learning everything he can about homelessness and addiction. 

“Just because this season right now is ending for me, that doesn’t mean I’ll lay this down,” he said. “I still have a great passion for understanding this, and hopefully I can do some good work.”


Trantham (right) addresses a room full of officers along with former Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed. Donated photo

A major loss — for now 

The praise Trantham expressed for Hollingsed was reciprocated in a Smoky Mountain News interview with the former chief. Hollingsed, who had Trantham in a class at WCU when he was an adjunct professor and Trantham hadn’t even donned a badge, said there have been a number of officers hired on at WPD during his tenure who he had the pleasure of watching develop into fine public servants. 

When it comes to Trantham, Hollingsed talked about a seemingly endless drive to do things the right way. 

“He’s a very passionate and driven officer,” Hollingsed said. “Anything he does, he’s going to give it 100%. He sees an issue and tries to solve it in a positive manner. Whether it’s opioid abuse or the homelessness issue, he’s not willing to sit back and be reactive; he wants to be proactive.”

Hollingsed also talked about Trantham’s leadership. 

“I think Tyler is a student of history, and he loves to read about leaders throughout history and model his own behavior and actions after historical leaders of the past,” he said. “He never stops trying to learn and model his own way of management after those great leaders.”

Chief Adams talked about Trantham’s ability to engage with the community, including the homeless population. While that effort helps build trust with those the department serves, that kind of connection can also help with cases on a practical level. 

“That’s an asset in investigations because he can locate suspects and witnesses,” Adams said. 

“It’s hard to replace that institutional knowledge,” he added. “And he grew up in Haywood County. It makes your job much easier when you’re homegrown.”

Now that Trantham has announced his departure, what’s next? 

“Obviously some time with my kids, and there’s some writing that I like to do for some reason … I didn’t even know I enjoyed doing that,” he said. 

Trantham said he also plans on remaining dedicated to finding ways to improve the mental and emotional health of officers and wants to help tackle the mental health problems they encounter any way he can. 

“I’m hoping that that I can serve in some way,” he said. “Even though I’m not full-time at the Waynesville Police Department, my involvement and my passion for these things won’t change. I’m still gonna keep digging into these issues and trying to educate myself and provide what I feel like could be solutions.”

All that said, Trantham hasn’t shut the door on possibly making a return. 

“Something may change, and this may just be a break,” he said. 

One thing Trantham wanted to make clear was that his departure has nothing to do with issues at WPD or the profession in general, not to say there haven’t been tough times. 

“I think we all go through frustration and disappointment … it’s weathering those things and not making a decision from that posture or from that place. It would’ve been a wrong place to make a decision from,” he said. “But it’s true. I think unfortunately there are a lot of people that are leaving this profession because they’re simply tired.”

For Trantham, it’s not about burnout — it’s about a calling, whatever that may be. 

While Adams said there’s no certain timeline and he’s not sure who will succeed Trantham, he did say it’ll be an internal promotion. Trantham opined that there is no shortage of qualified candidates in that department to fill his shoes. 

“There’s plenty of talent and ability there,” he said. “They know what to do. They have some of the best around.”

On that note, Trantham said he’ll miss those people he’s worked with and the bonds they’ve built. 

“That’s one of the hardest things,” he said. “When you spend every day of your life almost with some of these guys and gals, they become family. They know you better than some of your family knows you.”

But ultimately, Trantham said the toughest thing about leaving is severing the connection and access to his community that law enforcement has given him. From being able to ride around and know what’s going on in  each neighborhood to having the inherent trust of so many residents and business owners, simply being out of the loop will be a massive change. 

But knowing he’s had that opportunity will always be a point of pride. 

“It’s been an honor,” Trantham said. “[Waynesville] Mayor [Gavin] Brown used to say Waynesville is the best little town in America. I always said I believed it, but in this moment, it’s the truth. There’s not a better place to be a cop than here. I can’t be thankful enough.” 

Leave a comment


  • Waynesville is losing one of its finest police officers and an even better man. His character and grit are hard to find in a society that tries to emasculate men and then asks where all the men have gone. Tyler is a man that cut his teeth on the Dayco generation of yesteryear and his overall presence in the Waynesville community will be extremely hard to replace.

    posted by Michael Belue

    Tuesday, 08/02/2022

  • Waynesville is losing one of its finest police officers and an even better man. His character and grit are hard to find in a society that tries to emasculate men and then asks where all the men have gone. Tyler is a man that cut his teeth on the Dayco generation of yesteryear and his overall presence in the Waynesville community will be extremely hard to replace.

    posted by Michael Belue

    Monday, 08/01/2022

  • Waynesville is losing one of its finest police officers and an even better man. His character and grit are hard to find in a society that tries to emasculate men and then asks where all the men have gone. Tyler is a man that cut his teeth on the Dayco generation of yesteryear and his overall presence in the Waynesville community will be extremely hard to replace.

    posted by Michael Belue

    Monday, 08/01/2022

  • I’m very pro law enforcement & see what they endure every day from the dregs of society. The worthless dopers are arrested & useless court officials have them back on the streets an hour later. Then we have the so called “leaders” of our country being corrupt , lying, anti-democracy , insurrectionist, etc;, pied pipers who brainwash gullible voters, make honest Christian conservatives like me want to give up society just like honest cops abandon their profession. Then look at losers (probably arrested by honest cops) post anti-cop Trash.

    posted by Don

    Monday, 08/01/2022

  • He will be sorely missed as an officer, but I look forward to seeing where Our Good Lord is leading him. Many blessings, Mr. Trantham!

    posted by Helen Geltman

    Monday, 08/01/2022

  • He was just as dirty as Kevin smathers and would try to bully anyone in hand cuffs

    posted by You know

    Wednesday, 07/27/2022

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.