Chief: Small town policing has its advantages

Tim Hatch left a 163-officer department in Henry County more than 11 years ago to become chief of a small town agen

The Brunswick News

ST. MARYS — Tim Hatch left a 163-officer department in Henry County more than 11 years ago to become chief of the St. Marys Police Department.

At the time, the department had 32 officers, which was a far departure from a police force where he sometimes didn’t recognize some of the officers under his command.

Chief Tim Hatch (SMPD Image)
Chief Tim Hatch (SMPD Image)

“It’s harder to operate as a team when you don’t know everyone,” he said.

The challenge at first was building a rapport with his officers and the residents they are sworn to protect.

He said a smaller community enables his department to do more than react to calls for assistance.

“We try to be problem solvers,” he said. “Rather than merely enforcing the law to stop the incident, we look at the underlying problems that led to the call. We tend to be more proactive.”

Local churches help the department with community outreach programs in the city, which has been relatively lucky when it comes to serious crimes.

“We are blessed we don’t have a lot of violent crimes,” he said. “We’ve seen a decrease in violent crimes over the years.”

Hatch said his force currently has 30 sworn officers, including himself, that have seen an increased number of calls. Last year, his department received more than 46,000 calls, a record number, he said.

Sometimes, the department has to depend on assistance from other law enforcement agencies.

“Some of our resources are taxed when bad stuff does happen,” he said.

In October, Camden County Sheriff’s Office deputies helped the department after a home invasion where a man pistol whipped a woman. Deputies saw the suspect crouched behind a store and were forced to shoot the man after he fired shots at them.

“It was a critical situation,” Hatch said.

Luckily, he said gangs have been unable to establish a presence in the city.

“It’s something all three of the agencies in the county have to watch for,” he said.

There are a few problem areas that require extra patrols. He said the department realizes the law abiding citizens living in problem areas also need protection. He said his officers maintain constant contact with the managers of residential areas with higher than average crime rates.

One of the biggest challenges for small police departments is recruiting and keeping officers.

“A lot of agencies have trouble finding people who want to be cops,” he said.

Candidates typically wash out because they can’t pass the physical tests or meet the psychological requirements. Recruitment efforts are also hampered by the hostility some people have toward law enforcement officials.

The other challenge is keeping officers once they graduate from the academy. They are required to sign a contract to serve at least two years before they can seek another job.

“Younger officers have always been looking for better pay,” he said. “Law enforcement is a service-oriented profession.”

The city has implemented a new pay policy that guarantees officers pay raises for the first five years they work in the department as an incentive.

“Five years is the magic number because they’re fully vested,” he said. “The people who are here are intent on staying here.”

Hatch said the goal is to promote from within, rather than hire command staff from outside.

“You risk damage to morale if you don’t promote from within,” he said.

But in a smaller department, he realizes there are limited opportunities for advancement. He said some officers train to be detectives and other specialized jobs in the department to advance their careers.

The one thing Hatch said he doesn’t do is try to recruit officers from other law enforcement agencies in the county.

“I don’t want to get the reputation from my fellow chiefs,” he said.

Having a Navy base bordering the city limits doesn’t impact the way his department has to enforce the law, he said.

“It’s a whole lot easier working with the Navy than I ever imagined,” he said. “The base is part of our community. They live here. Their kids go to school here.”

Hatch said he has no regrets in accepting the job as chief, and he has no plans on leaving for another job.

“I came to be chief and I wanted a lifestyle change,” he said. “It’s not always about the money. It’s about the satisfaction.”

Copyright 2016 The Brunswick News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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