Smyrna’s new police chief hopes to reduce traffic crashes, fatalities

Chief of Police Joe Bennet walks the halls with Deputy Chief of Police Robert Harvey and Officer Ryan Hanson (behind Bennet) at the Smyrna Police Headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia, on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. As Smyrna’s new Chief of Police, Joe Bennett wants to work on hiring new officers and address the increase in the number of traffic-related crashes and fatalities in the city. Bennett was sworn into the new position in February. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)
Chief of Police Joe Bennet walks the halls with Deputy Chief of Police Robert Harvey and Officer Ryan Hanson (behind Bennet) at the Smyrna Police Headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia, on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. As Smyrna’s new Chief of Police, Joe Bennett wants to work on hiring new officers and address the increase in the number of traffic-related crashes and fatalities in the city. Bennett was sworn into the new position in February. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)

Every kid who wants to become a cop dreams of leading their hometown police force, according to Joe Bennett, Smyrna’s new police chief.

With the unanimous support of the Smyrna City Council, Bennett is now one of the very few officers to have achieved that goal. The boy who grew up in Smyrna is now chief of its police department, which has 150 employees, including 98 sworn officers. Bennett follows in the footsteps of David Lee, who retired in February after serving as chief since 2013.

While Smyrna experienced a roughly 1.78 percent decrease in major violent crimes from 2018 to 2019, Bennett said the number of traffic collisions recorded is a growing concern for the department.

According to numbers provided by the department, Smyrna police were called to 3,411 traffic collisions in 2017, 3,462 in 2018, 3,317 in 2019 and 424 so far this year. The number of deaths stemming from those crashes has risen over the last three years, however. Smyrna police recorded two fatalities in 2017, five in 2018, seven in 2019 and three so far this year.

Bennett, 48, said the police department is exploring ways to increase traffic enforcement, including re-establishing the agency’s DUI Task Force and applying additional resources to intersections and streets where Smyrna is seeing the increases.


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The intersection that causes the most headaches is South Cobb Drive and East-West Connector, which was the site of 208 accidents in one year, the chief said. Bennett said Smyrna police will continue to analyze other intersections where increased enforcement could help drive down the number of crashes.

“I think the citizens have been very clear that is their expectation as well,” Bennett said.

Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton also said he’s on board with the department rolling out increased traffic enforcement efforts to tackle issues like distracted driving and driving under the influence.

‘We’ve gone a long time without traffic enforcement, and something’s got to change,” he said.

Chief of Police Joe Bennet speaks with Sgt. Chris Singleton at the Smyrna Police Headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia, on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. As Smyrna’s new Chief of Police, Joe Bennett wants to work on hiring new officers and address the increase in the number of traffic-related crashes and fatalities in the city. Bennett was sworn into the new position in February. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)
Chief of Police Joe Bennet speaks with Sgt. Chris Singleton at the Smyrna Police Headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia, on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. As Smyrna’s new Chief of Police, Joe Bennett wants to work on hiring new officers and address the increase in the number of traffic-related crashes and fatalities in the city. Bennett was sworn into the new position in February. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)

While some police departments struggle to stay fully staffed, Smyrna doesn’t have that problem. Out of 98 sworn positions, only three are vacant, the chief said. Bennett intends to keep in place a bonus program that he said has helped bring in a steady number of applicants. Smyrna police offers a $3,000 signing bonus for non-certified officers and $5,000 bonus for certified officers. They also offer an additional $1,000 bonus for applicants who’ve served in the military.

Once a new officer reaches the five-year mark, they are eligible to receive another $5,000 bonus that’s payable upon completion of an additional two years of service.

“We’ve been very successful in the bonus program,” Bennett said.

Norton said he wants to expand on the department’s hiring initiatives with a package that would provide a 3% raise for public safety personnel over the next year. That would be part of a larger three-year initiative to overhaul public safety employee pay and benefits “to help us be more competitive,” Norton said.


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Bennett, who will have an annual salary of $120,000, joined Smyrna police in March 1995. He has worked in the uniform patrol, street crimes, criminal investigations and administrative services units, the city said. He also was a marksman on the agency’s SWAT unit for 10 years, commanded the team for three years and most recently served as deputy chief.

The chief has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and leadership from Reinhardt University and a master’s in public safety administration from Columbus State University. He is pursuing his doctorate in public administration from Valdosta State University.

Bennett is also a graduate of the Mercer University Public Safety Leadership Institute and the 248th session of the FBI National Academy. He graduated as a member of Class 50 of the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College and completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Bennett and his wife, Mary, have two children, Kaitlin and Joey. When he’s not working, he enjoys running, biking and spending time with his family.

Norton said he’s excited to see the department’s next chapter with Bennett serving as chief. With his connections to the community and longtime service to the department, the mayor said he can’t think of anyone better than Bennett to lead the agency.

“His resume speaks for itself,” he said. “We are lucky to have him.”


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Meet Joe Bennett

Occupation: Smyrna police chief

Age: 48

Family: wife, Mary; two children

Education: bachelor’s degree in organizational management and leadership from Reinhardt University; a master’s in public safety administration from Columbus State University; pursuing his doctorate in public administration from Valdosta State University; graduate of the Mercer University Public Safety Leadership Institute; graduate of the 248th session of the FBI National Academy; member of Class 50 of the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College; and completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Previous experience: Joined Smyrna police in March 1995; worked in the uniform patrol, street crimes, criminal investigations and administrative services units; served as a marksman on the agency’s SWAT unit for 10 years, commanded the team for three years and deputy chief.

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