SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The new Chatham County Chief of Police was sworn in on Monday.
Jeff Hadley comes to Chatham County from Kalamazoo, MI, where he served as police chief for nearly 10 years. His experience in law enforcement dates back more than 20 years.
With the swearing in, the new Chatham County Police Department installed new assistant chiefs and 20 officers. Leaders and local law enforcement packed a room to support Chief Hadley who says he's excited about the opportunity to lead the police department. Monday morning was the first of a few swearing-in ceremonies.
The goal is to have 90 officers in the new police department. Most of them will be sworn in by the Feb. 1 launch date. County leaders say they're not concerned because they're combing through 120 applications right now.
"We have folks from all over the country. We have officers that have come on board from as far as Texas," said Chatham County Manager, Lee Smith.
The next two months, officers will focus on training, learning the ins and outs of the county, and building relationships to focus on community policing.
Chief Hadley says his focus will be what goes on inside of the new department as well as getting the community engaged. He says his proudest achievement is changing how his department is policed.
"Go and talk to store owners and say 'this is my beat, I'm here, here is my card, if you need me, call,' Smith said.
"I really thought we changed the culture of the department, really pivoting from a stat-driven, enforcement-focused department to a more relational department with the community, and having an ethic of the department that really was community-centered. Not that we didn't write tickets, not that we didn't make arrests or anything like that, but that just wasn't the focus. That didn't measure our success. What measured our success was the relationship with the community," Hadley said of his prior department.
Now, he's bringing that people-focused policing to Chatham County.
"We really have to and we will create a department that is truly engaged with our community, and the relationship with them will be the foundation for the Chatham County Police Department because at the end of the day, that's what it's really about. It's about humans, It's about people. This is people work, and that's what we're going to do. We're going to do the best we can. We're going to care. We're going to listen, and we're going to do the right thing, and at the end of the day, if you do those three things, I think you're going to be alright," Chief Hadley said. "Everything's stacked for it to turn out in a very, very positive way, so I don't have any reservations. I never had any reservations through the whole interview process. They instilled a lot of confidence in me through the interview process that they are doing all the right things, working as hard as they can to make this turn out the best way possible. You have a lot of institutional knowledge in there, a lot of talent and a lot of perspective. Those aren't young officers in there, so they can help provide the path as we go forward to building this department."
That work won't be within his own department alone. Chief Hadley says he plans to partner with the city of Savannah, the soon-to-be Savannah Police Department, and Police Chief Jack Lumpkin.
"I have no doubt that we can sit down like two human beings who are responsible for police services. I have every bit of confidence that we're going to have a good partner with Chief Lumpkin and the city of Savannah," Hadley said.
Part of that confidence comes from a call from Chief Lumpkin. Hadley says Lumpkin was one of the first people to reach out to him after accepting the job.
"I'm confident that we're going to work well together. I called to congratulate him and welcome him to this community. He's been successful elsewhere. He will be successful here," Chief Lumpkin said.
The Chatham County manager says while the police department is new, they will be working very closely with other law enforcement departments.
"We're looking at working with all the police departments in the area and in the region to develop things like bomb squads, SWAT teams, and do this together," Smith said.
Smith says Hadley's current experience has somewhat of a stellar reputation.
"Kalamazoo has the leading public safety organization in the country. It's not that large but it would be about the size we want," he said.
Leaders spoke about the timeline for the new department and admit that everything won't be in place by Feb. 1, but they're working to make sure all staff is in place as soon as possible. By July of 2018, leaders hope to have all staff and officers hired and sworn in to the new department.
"Six to nine months. You're still bringing people in, you're screening and you're learning the community," Smith said.
Smith is confident the new chief will be well on his way by the time the new department launches.
"We've got a ways to go, but Feb. 1, we're on patrol," he said.
Through the messy divorce between city and county police departments, public safety is said to still be a top priority. Now that Chatham County has its own police force, a lot of business must now be redirected.
Chief Hadley's message to the community is that he and the department will work for you, whether you initially wanted them here or not.
"Regardless of their feelings about the situation that we're here, we're going to do good work. We work for them and with them and to stay tuned, and I think they're going to be pretty pleased with the product once we're able to get everything up and running," Hadley said.
The first year of operation for 2018 could cost more than $17.8 million, but taxpayers will share some of that burden because the county raised the millage rate earlier this year.
The new Chatham County Police Department will work out of the Islands Precinct and southwest portion of the county.
We've been following the demerger for several months now. Click here to see all of our previous stories.