Cities look to north Fulton to fill police chief positions

While policing across the country has been under increased scrutiny over the past year, the top ranks of north Fulton police departments have been getting attention nationally to fill the chief positions.
While policing across the country has been under increased scrutiny over the past year, the top ranks of north Fulton police departments have been getting attention nationally to fill the chief positions.

Credit: Sandy Springs Police Department

Credit: Sandy Springs Police Department

On Tuesday, Smyrna Police Chief Keith Zgonc was partly focused on events in Minnesota — similar to other chiefs of departments across the U.S. — and reaction to the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial.

The difference is Tuesday was Zgonc’s first day on the job. The former deputy police chief of Sandy Springs retired from that city Friday to become Smyrna’s new police chief.

While policing across the country has been under increased scrutiny over the past year, the top ranks of north Fulton police departments have been getting attention nationally to fill the chief positions.

In addition to Zgonc’s hiring in Smyrna, Milton Police Chief Rich Austin is a finalist for police chief in Kansas City, Kansas. Johns Creek, which is hiring a new police chief, plans to narrow its nationwide search in the next few weeks from 12 candidates to fewer than six, city spokesman Bob Mullen said.

Johns Creek’s extensive hiring process started last October. Smyrna didn’t need as much time to hire Zgonc, 54. The Cobb County resident started his police career with Smyrna police in 1991 and left to work in a lieutenant position for Sandy Springs police when the city formed in 2006.

The new chief said that he recognizes the sensitive climate the department operates in and that his approach would be to listen intently as he talks with staff and the community.

“On the local level it’s all about relationships,” he said. “It’s about creating and maintaining relationships between the police department and the community. We’ve go to be willing to talk about everything. If you can’t do that, you can’t make progress.”

Zgonc will oversee 140 employees and 98 sworn officers in a city almost half as populated as Sandy Springs’ 110,000 people.

If Milton’s chief lands the position in Kansas City, Austin would be moving to a city of more than three times the population as the north Fulton City. Austin, a 30-year law enforcement veteran, was hired as Milton chief in 2016 from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, where he was captain of internal affairs.

Milton City Manager Steven Krokoff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a statement that Austin has his full support in pursuing the Kansas police chief role.

In Johns Creek, The International Association of the Chiefs of Police is conducting the search for a new police chief to replace Chris Byers, who resigned during the summer following a two-month investigation into explicit sexual remarks he made to a police department employee.

The investigation followed a controversial Facebook post Byers made in June on the Black Lives Matter movement in aftermath of the death of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin.

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