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Police chief candidate meets citizens at public forum

By BETH ALSTON
beth.alston@americustimesrecorder.com
www.americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — The lone candidate for Americus Police Chief,  Woodrow W. Blue Jr., was available at a public forum held Monday night at the Russell Thomas Jr. Public Safety Building. The event was well attended by a good cross-section of the city’s population.
Before introducing Blue, City Manager Steve Kennedy said the City is trying something it’s never tried before: Blue had been involved in interviews with various groups within the Americus Police Department during the day Monday. He was to be interviewed by an expert panel Tuesday morning and Kennedy said his decision would come next week.
Blue introduced himself, saying he was born at Moody AFB as his father was career military. His family ultimately settled in Hahira.
He said that after leaving his position with the City of Eastpoint, he thought he was ready to retire, but was not busy enough to suit himself so he took the chief’s job in Donalsonville. He has been involved with service on various professional boards and also is former president of the Association of Chiefs of Police. He said he believes in professionalism and integrity.
“Leadership comes from the bottom up,” he said. “My job is to provide the officers with all the tools they need to do their jobs.”
He also believes in community policing.
“It will take all of us. I will be on the street, meeting people …”
He said he also believes in training.
“Do as I do. I will lead by example, lead out front, building trust and a relationship with the officers and the community.”
He said he loves this area of the state and would like to live here with his wife of 35 years, his daughter and three-year-old grandson.
Blue answered questions from audience members.
Georgia Laurin asked Blue’s views on victims’ rights. Laurin said the police department had recently released information on an armed robbery in his neighborhood which had been disseminated by the media. Blue said he is required to respect the Georgia Open Records laws.
Laurin also asked about police follow-up to crimes and Blue said he would set up a mechanism by which the victim would be contacted when an arrest was made.
Tom Harrison asked how long Blue would commit to the City of Americus.
“As long as I physically can,” Blue answered.
George Ellis Sr. asked what Blue considers the most important attribute in a police chief.
“Integrity,” Blue said, “because if anybody is supposed to follow the rules, it’s the police department.”
Jim Covington asked Blue’s plans for recruitment and retention.
Blue said the recent pay raise for officers has helped, but he would find niches for officers, such as in the patrol division or investigations. He also said reimbursement for college tuition is a good way to keep good officers.
Russell Thomas III asked Blue what he has found as far as strengths and weaknesses in Americus in his research process.
Blue said having been a police chief for 36 years, he has talked to many area chiefs and former chiefs.
“There is a disconnect between the police department and the public,” he said, adding that he would add a Police Academy for kids during the summer and a Citizens Police Academy for adult citizens to better the relationship.
Bill Murray told Blue that crime is on the increase locally and wanted to know how Blue would solve the problem.
Blue said making the streets safe is vital.
“We must identify the cause of the crimes,” he said.
Craig Walker asked about the policy of officers taking patrol cars home and officers in uniform doing private security work.
Blue said it actually helps the police when officers in uniform are doing private security.
“They’re already there” in the event of trouble, he said, adding that allowing officers to take patrol cars home is a good recruitment tool.
“The turnover rate here is astronomical,” he said of the staffing at the department. He said it costs thousands of dollars to train and equip a new officer and they often go elsewhere within months for a job in Albany. He suggested a certification agreement of three years when hiring new officers.
Another citizen asked about the relationship between the police department and sheriff’s office.
“We have to get along,” Blue said. “We can both make our jobs easier by working together.” He said the idea of a drug task force is a great idea provided the resources are available.
Blue said he believes strongly in the Neighborhood Watch program but would have monthly meetings with the neighborhood captains to review the status of crime in the neighborhoods.
Others in the audience praised the police department for what they do in the community. Blue said he would provide training to officers on how to better relate to the public.
Bill Murray said, “Are we going to get a hand on the leadership problem with this police department or are we just filling a position?”
Blue said, “Your prayer’s been answered because I’m here now,” to great applause.
Kennedy commented that police chief is a “critical position which requires extensive interviews.
“My expectations is that what’s happening now is going to get better. My expections, my standards for the police chief, downtown director and public works director, are higher than ever,” he said.
Murray advised Kennedy to “stay on the good side of the mayor and Council long enough to get something done.”
Russell Thomas III asked where the buck stops, to which Steve Kennedy said, “with me.”
Drugs were mentioned by an audience member as the greatest cause of crime in the community. Blue concurred and said that when a problem arises, it first must be identified, and then resources need to found to solve the problem.
Blue began his career in law enforcement in 1982, as the Chief of Police for the City of Hahira, and served 21 years in that capacity. Afterwards, he served as the Deputy Chief and then Chief of Police of the City of Milledgeville, or 11 years. He also served as adjunct professor of criminal justice at Central Georgia Technical College, and as a board member of the Georgia Board of Private Detective and Security Agencies. He holds a master of public administration from Columbus State University and a bachelor of science in criminal justice from Valdosta State University. He also served as Chief of Police of East Point for two years and currently serves as Chief of Police in Donalsonville.