Chatham County police chief reacts to protests, talks improving police-community relationships

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — “You know, we’re in tough times right now,” said Chatham County Police Department Chief Jeffrey Hadley as he reflected on the current climate of the nation.

Hadley, who’s been in Savannah for two-and-a-half years, has a son and a daughter who have followed in their father’s law enforcement footsteps.

“My daughter’s up in Michigan and she’s a National Guardsman, so she went from being a police officer to being activated,” Hadley told WSAV.com NOW. “She’s been in three different cities in three days.”

The police chief says amid recent protests, cries of outrage and calls for change that have rippled across the globe following the death of George Floyd, he’s “really proud” of how citizens of Chatham County have handled this difficult period. 

“It’s their absolute right to [protest]; I believe in that, I believe in the Constitution,” Hadley said.

“It hasn’t turned to where other people have gotten harmed or businesses have been damaged,” he added. “There’s so many people already out of work, and the businesses are just starting to get back up and running, and we’re glad to see no businesses were damaged here at all or to any extent that would keep them from reopening or staying open.”

Hadley also commended Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and city council members for their efforts.

“I think the leadership has done well, I think Mayor Johnson has done well,” he shared. 

Hadley says this week, he joined Johnson along with other local police chiefs, pastors and leaders for a Zoom chat about ways they can work toward keeping the Hostess City safe.

I think as law enforcement, if people know you care, you’re trying to do the best job that you can, you’re willing to listen, and [also] listen to constructive ways to make our profession better, I think it goes a long way.”

Chief Jeffrey Hadley, Chatham County Police Department

“[We discussed] what action steps that we have control over that we can do here to make our little slice of the world better, and we’re committed to doing that, and there’s gonna be more of that as we go forward,” Hadley said.

He says watching what’s unfolding across the country is “kind of like history repeating itself.”

“I just hope that we can get to a point where we can have constructive conversations about what we can do better as a country, as a profession and as a community so we can avoid, if at all possible, chaos and mayhem and relationships getting torn apart and people taking so many sides, many angles of the positions, that we can’t even talk,” Hadley said.

“If we can’t even talk like human beings and view each other as human beings that are troubled, you know, on all sides of the equation, then we’re not in a good place to do better,” he said.

The police chief says he’s been working within his own diverse department, speaking with his officers about what’s happening and how it affects them.

He wanted to share with them the importance of communication, even when it’s not easy.

“I hope I imparted on the officers that [they’ve] gotta talk to each other, you know, as fellow officers that are different and come from different backgrounds, talk through frustrations, anxieties or perspectives, but don’t lose sight of who we are and what we want to be,” he said. 

“I think as law enforcement, if people know you care, you’re trying to do the best job that you can, you’re willing to listen, and [also] listen to constructive ways to make our profession better, I think it goes a long way,” Hadley added. 

He says it’s crucial that officers work at fostering and building those community relationships every day. 

“What I told the officers is, ‘every call you go to, every traffic stop that you make, every citizen contact that you have, informal, formal, at McDonald’s, getting a sandwich, getting a soda, I mean, everybody’s watching you,’” Hadley shared.

“They’re gonna watch if you smile, if you wave, if you showed a little compassion, or if you just said, ‘good morning, have a great day,’ or how you handle their call, you know, if they’re a victim or even if they’re an arrestee.”

“Let us be the example,” he said. “The good example, not the bad example.”

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