What’s the biggest difference between policing in metro Atlanta and Fayetteville? It’s the people, said Fayetteville’s new Chief of Police Gina Hawkins. She came from Clayton County, Georgia, where she was deputy chief. Before that, she was a police officer in Atlanta.
Hawkins was sworn in as Fayetteville’s eighth police chief seven weeks ago. “I’ve found people in our city are engaged; they’re involved in the community,” she said. “And that makes my job easier.” Hawkins inherited a law enforcement agency already highly respected for its professionalism, much of that the result of retired chief Harold Medlock’s three-and-a-half-year tenure.
Hawkins’ assessment of the department: “We still have a long way to go.” Medlock was a highly visible figure in the community. He responded to every homicide that occurred during his term of office. He required that the three assistant chiefs also do so. Hawkins does not. Medlock held frequent news conferences and photo opportunities. Hawkins, while readily accessible to the media, has not held a news conference. “I don’t want to upstage my commanders,” she said. “I encourage the leaders to make decisions for themselves.”
She agreed with Medlock that the Fayetteville Police Department command staff is highly motivated and professional. But, she added, assistant chiefs and captains can be more creative in their day-to-day duties, and that’s part of her ongoing assessment of the department.
Fayetteville doesn’t have enough police officers in her opinion. She pointed to its population of 210,000 and its sprawling land area. Fayetteville is the second largest city in North Carolina, covering 148 square miles.
Hawkins is examining how some of her 433 officers might be redeployed to specialized duties. For example, she believes there’s a need for additional traffic enforcement officers. The chief said she hopes she never hears about a hot police pursuit taking the lives of innocent people, which happened recently in Greensboro. She expects patrol supervisors to call off a high-speed chase before it jeopardizes lives.
Hawkins recently accepted an invitation that included repelling off an office building in Raleigh. It was a fundraiser for the North Carolina Special Olympics. Hawkins learned later that she’d be repelling from the top of the 30-story Wells Fargo skyscraper, but it was too late to back out of the commitment. She and four other members of the department raised $5,000 in the daring act for the Special Olympics.
A couple of weeks ago, Hawkins joined three other minority, female police chiefs in New York City for a nationally-televised TV appearance. They were on Megyn Kelly’s show “Today” to talk about how they broke racial and gender lines in their advancement up police ranks.
“Chief Hawkins is representing the city and the law enforcement profession in an exemplary fashion,” said City Manager Doug Hewett. “I have full confidence in Chief Hawkins and the entire staff of the Fayetteville Police Department.”