There’s a new lawman in Harlem.
Interim Harlem Police Department Chief Gary Jones hopes he’s back to stay.
The former chief of police in Sardis, Ga., was hired to fill the position vacated by David Sward in mid-April.
City Manager Jason Rizner said city officials haven’t decided whether they will search for a permanent chief or remove the word “interim” from Jones’ title. Because Jones wants the job, Rizner said they’ll wait before evaluating the situation.
“I feel confident I am going to do a job that is going to be pleasing enough to the city and to the citizens that I will qualify for the position,” Jones said.
Jones accepting the position in Harlem, even on an interim basis, was a homecoming. Jones grew up in Harlem, graduated from Harlem High School and started his nearly 30-year-career in law enforcement as an officer in Harlem in 1984.
“He’s certainly got an impressive background working with a couple of good sheriff’s departments,” Rizner said.
“It’s good to have him back in his home area. He’s very eager to make a positive difference here in Harlem.”
He spent a year and a half in Harlem before leaving as a sergeant. He spent about the same amount of time working for public safety in Folly Beach, S.C.
Homesick, Jones said, he joined the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office in the late 1980s. There, he served in many capacities, including as a beat deputy, road lieutenant and supervisor over Vice/Narcotics and Criminal Investigations.
After about 12 years in Columbia County, Jones moved to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. There, he was a beat officer and traffic officer and served on the DUI task force. He left as sergeant over a shift in the South Precinct.
Jones had plenty do to when he took over as chief of police in Sardis in May 2011. He created policies and procedures, got working patrol vehicles and made the department more public-friendly.
Jones got to whip another department into shape when he was appointed by the governor as a special liaison to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
His 90-day mission was to straighten out the Regional Youth Detention Center.
Jones, who lives in Grovetown with his wife and two daughters, had been commuting to Sardis and is excited to be closer to home.
Jones said he’s determined to make the department more public-friendly and transparent.
On every letterhead, business card and even taped to the front glass of the public safety building is Jones’ cellphone number.
“My staff has been told – dispatch and everybody – if a member of the public wants my number, give it to them,” Jones said. “It doesn’t matter what time of day or night.”
Jones took over part time in late April and as the chief full time May 6. He’s been busy starting programs such as giving out free gun locks to residents and starting a Citizens Advisory Board, promotional boards and a department Facebook page.
Jones said he’s trying to focus more on community policing and changing the way his officers interact with the public. He urges them to use commonsense and compassion, honesty and professionalism when dealing with the public.
“Community policing is, for short terminology, the public is the police and the police are the public,” Jones said. “I’ve tried to demonstrate to the officers that the more proactive you are, the less reactive you will be. And to try to treat the beat, the town itself, as an extension of their home, so to speak. So the better they treat it and get out there and treat the public, that is going to mean less reactive work for them.”
Jones has purchased two cameras to be used in patrol cars and worn on officers’ uniforms and is working toward purchasing a radio that will allow communication with the sheriff’s office because the systems used by the two departments don’t connect.
Jones plans to start having coffee with the “regulars” at the Jet Food Store, start a Night Owl program allowing residents to register their vehicle to be stopped if it is on the road overnight, ice cream day for city children and possibly outdoor family movies.
He plans to do some department restructuring and cut waste spending.
“I’m going to start a reserve officer program,” Jones said. “Anyone that is interested, please come see me and fill out an application.”