New police chief hopes to build trust with Gwinnett community, lower violent crime

Deputy Police Chief J.D. McClure will take over as chief of the Gwinnett County Police Department on August 21. (Courtesy of Gwinnett County)

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Deputy Police Chief J.D. McClure will take over as chief of the Gwinnett County Police Department on August 21. (Courtesy of Gwinnett County)

James “J.D.” McClure will soon lead the Gwinnett County Police Department with a promise to build relationships with communities and bring down violent crime.

McClure officially began his new role as police chief Saturday. He succeeds Brett West, who will retire after 30 years with the department and just over one year as police chief.

“I want our community to know that we have some of the best police officers in the country,” said McClure, who joined Gwinnett’s department in 1996. “... I want to ensure that our officers treat our community with dignity and respect.”

McClure praised the department for clearing upwards of 80% of homicide cases each year, hovering above the national average of 60%.

There were 48 homicides in Gwinnett County in 2020, compared to 30 in 2019, according to an open records request filed by the AJC. As of July 30, there were 29 homicides committed in the county so far in 2021.

McClure’s appointment comes after three June shootings took place over the span of three days. It’s hard to pinpoint why homicides are higher compared to previous years, he said, but he hopes reducing gang violence and the flow of illicit drugs will help lower the number of deaths.

“We want to be intentional with these violent gun-related crimes, so we are going to do our best to target that type of behavior,” McClure said. “... The bottom line is, our job is to provide a safe community.”

McClure, 50, is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and married with two daughters. He said he took on the role as police chief “out of a sense of duty” and feels he owes it to his community and to the men and women on the force.

Currently, 742 sworn officers serve six police precincts located across the county. Several cities have their own police departments, but the unincorporated areas of the county and the cities of Berkeley Lake, Buford, Dacula, Grayson, Peachtree Corners and Sugar Hill rely on Gwinnett’s force.

There are 158 open positions for sworn officers at the department, which McClure said he hopes to fill by restoring the appeal of the profession, especially among younger generations.

Gwinnett is the most diverse county in Georgia, with large minority communities throughout it. The officers hired by the department should continue to reflect that diversity to the greatest extent possible, McClure said.

McClure will make history as the department’s first Black police chief. The significance of the moment “is definitely not lost on me,” McClure said, but he hopes the community focuses on the police force’s relationship with its community rather than his skin color.

The department holds large events each year to connect with residents, McClure said. He said he wants officers to take community outreach a step further by attending neighborhood picnics and local sports games.

McClure will make $195,000 each year and be the fourth person to lead Gwinnett’s police force since 2019. Officers knew that former Chief Brett West planned to retire at the 30-year mark before West took the position, McClure said.

“Every single day he came to work, he was focused and intentional on getting a lot of things completed during his tenure,” said McClure in regard to West. “It set a great example for me and everybody else in the department. He’ll be missed.”

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Gwinnett County Police Chief Brett West will retire after 30 years with the department. (Courtesy of Gwinnett County)

Credit: Gwinnett County

Gwinnett County Police Chief Brett West will retire after 30 years with the department. (Courtesy of Gwinnett County)

Credit: Gwinnett County

Combined ShapeCaption
Gwinnett County Police Chief Brett West will retire after 30 years with the department. (Courtesy of Gwinnett County)

Credit: Gwinnett County

Credit: Gwinnett County

In a statement to the AJC, West praised McClure and said “he is the best person for the job.” West said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife and playing golf as he enters retirement.

“The landscape of policing is changing and many departments are looking inward to evaluate how best to serve their communities,” said West in the statement. “I believe that over the years, our leadership has worked to create a culture of honesty, integrity, and respect.”