City holds public forum for police chief finalists
By LISA LAW
AMERICUS — The final three candidates for Americus Police chief introduced themselves during a public forum Monday at the Russell Thomas Jr. Public Safety Building.
Many local concerned citizens gathered for the forum. Among these citizens was Jeruta Scott, an 11-year property manager of Magnolia Village Apartments. Scott’s major concern was gaining a chief of police who is in charge and can make decisions concerning gangs.
“A chief can’t do his job just by sitting behind his desk,” she said elaborating on the “riff-raff” coming from cities within 20 to 25 miles of Americus. “I love Americus. We are a great college town, a vibrate town,” she said, concluding that we need direction from a good leader in the police department.
The beginning of the forum started with candidate Larry E. Wilson who introduced himself as a retiree of Suffolk, Virginia, as deputy chief of police. Wilson said he started his career in law enforcement at age 19 and has 32 years’ experience in all levels of law enforcement.
“I love law enforcement. I retired Dec. 12 as deputy chief,” he said, as he explained he was deeply involved in accreditation, current affairs, as well as financial affairs.
Wilson said it is all about investing in the community, as building relationships.
“Relationships are based on trust,” Wilson said, explaining that doesn’t happen instantly. He went on to explain the need for safety of citizens and educating the public in safeguarding themselves from being set up for becoming violated by criminal behavior, such as keeping their car doors locked.
Wilson was asked about the reoccurring criminal behavior, such as violators being arrested, going to court, and the judge letting them pay their fines and then they are released are back out on the street to burglarize again. He was asked what that does to the morale of law enforcement officers.
Wilson said it was important to promote the morale of the department, and help them recognize the importance they play in the department.
“Knowing we have done our part,” Wilson said in his response to the recidivism. Wilson said many criminals repeat the crime oftentimes before their probation period is over. He also confirmed releasing the criminal back out on the streets can cause apathy within the department in regard to a policeman feeling of accomplishment of his duty. He said the self-esteem of the department is highly important and promoting morale is essential; however, he stressed that if members of his department are doing their job that recidivism is a part of the reality of their job.
“Once the criminal is confronted with the judge, their (the police) job is over,” he said.
Wilson answered a question from concerned citizen Craig Walker.
“If you are feeling you are pressed, or stressed by higher leadership, how will you directly handle this?” Walker asked, reflecting on prior chiefs of police of Americus who had said the stress of their job was aging them and not worth their health.
Wilson said he thrives on stress and that he is well prepared in moving forward and making good choices in the community making sure his crew is supported and not stepping outside of the fence and violating policies and procedures. Overall, he stressed relationships with good communication, integrity and morals.
The second candidate to introduce himself was Edward Page Reynolds, who retired as lead homicide detectives in 2009, from New Haven, Connecticut, after which he went to Wilton, Maine, to serve in administration, and then to Forrest City, Arkansas, where he presently serves as commander of the detective unit.
Reynolds said he served a similar size department and community. He implemented a community based department which worked together to engage members of the community for the good of all.
“I am excited for the opportunity to serve this community,” he said, explaining his decision to seek employment in Georgia was because of having family in Atlanta.
Reynolds said he will bring his philosophy, which is based on creative solutions, to make his department members visible in the community. He said he has an open door policy; no appointments needed. He also said he is big on young people and that the majority of crimes are committed by those 16-25 years of age.
He said he will seek proactive ways to address this problem. He added he is very proud of a youth boxing program he had administered for at risk young people. He said this program went on to produce Golden Glove recipients and honor roll graduates of youth who were at one time “raising hell and exhibiting criminal behaviors.” He said there is always a creative solution to the problem and his primary goal is to bridge the gap. His plans are to address the gang problems with creative initiatives, focusing on making better choice programs for at risk youth. Overall, Reynolds said he would motivate community involvement in addressing issues regarding criminal behavior.
Craig Walker also asked Reynolds if he would be afraid to talk about or address issues within the department because of fear of losing his job. Would he not bend, and say, “Let me be the police chief because I am the expert; they are not,” said Walker referring to the possible intimidation of the top tier of administration running the police department.
“The Mayor and I of Forrest City hired me, we had our disagreements. I will stand up for what is right, as a leader I will work to bridge the gap,” he said, adding that he is an ordained minister. He said he would motivate initiatives by encouraging volunteers, and seeking grants in regard to funding these initiatives.
Walker also added a positive comment, commending Central Baptist Church, Union Tabernacle and (Juvenile Court) Judge (Lisa) Rambo for their involvement and investment in the community concerning at risk youth.
“Black pastors are failing us badly,” Walker said, explaining the white pastors are more involved with improving criminal behavior and creating positive environments and initiatives toward addressing solutions to problems regarding preventive measures.
Walker ended by complimenting Reynolds, but adding that “corruption is coming from the top” and looking at the history of Americus, he did not see the hiring of a black chief.
The final candidate, Mark Scott, who started his career in Thomasville as a news photographer, before serving as deputy captain in 1989, with the Thomasville Police Department. Scott said his position as deputy chief in Albany was done away with in a cut of deputy chiefs within the department.
Scott was asked by a concerned citizen about his view on community policing.
He answered simply, “It’s policing. One of the things we do in Albany is investing a lot of time and energy in good things going on in the community via the media. He said he likes face to face contact through community forums. He also said, like Americus, there are churches involved in forming community forums concerning gang problems and plans of action. He said most gang activity in Albany is carried out by adults selling drugs and making big money. He said there is huge organized gangs/crime.
Scott said that crime is a symptom of other problems, such as domestic violence, which involves assaults. He suggested addressing social service issues before these crimes occur. He also suggested addressing property crimes by educating citizens on property crime opportunities. (In other words educating citizens on how to protect their properties by locking car doors and etc.) Scott said his biggest accomplishment is bringing together departmental heads in joint meetings in an effort to break down barriers. He said Albany tried and failed for accreditation for 20 years and during his employment with Albany Police Department, he was instrumental in facilitating the department gaining accreditation.
Scott was asked about gang activity in Americus being 25 to 30 miles from Albany. He said he would not be able to know for sure how organized the gang activity is in Americus. But, he would know within a few weeks in office.