Lithonia recently hired a veteran officer as its new police chief, aiming to put an end to years of flux within the department’s leadership.
On Sept. 22, Nathan E. Pollard took over as the police chief for the small city in southeastern DeKalb County. In an interview Thursday, he said the honeymoon period has gone well, but he aims to bring long-term leadership to a department recently embattled by turnover and scandal.
“I’m trying not to be a member of that revolving door," he said. "I’m trying to bring some stability to the agency.”
In 2018, Lithonia police Chief Roosevelt Smith was fired after being accused of violating policy and misusing power, prompting a GBI investigation into the entire police department. In a separate incident, an officer was accused of raping a woman while on duty last year. Amid the turmoil, the department went through two interim police chiefs and one new hire, who lasted about 15 months before leaving last December.
Pollard, whose most recent job in law enforcement was as a jail watch commander for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, acknowledges the challenge of stepping into the role of chief.
“Law enforcement as a family is suffering credibility issues,” he said. “With that being said, all I can do is take care of my own backyard. That means making sure that the citizens understand that we’re going to try to be transparent when dealing with interactions, be it positive or negative.”
Pollard, 61, said he’s wanted to be an officer since he was a kid growing up in Alliance, Ohio, which is about 50 miles southeast of Cleveland. He remembers an officer who would direct traffic in the area while dancing to music, which inspired imitation.
“I would get my whistle, and if there was an accident or something close, I would get out there and direct traffic,” Pollard said, reminiscing on his pre-teen years.
His law enforcement career began at the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in 1988. Aside from a brief stint with Clark Atlanta University campus police in the mid-1990s, his career kept him in Georgia’s most populous county.
While in Fulton, he worked as a training director, court administration and jail watch commander, meaning he oversaw thousands of inmates and employees each day. The Fulton County Jail typically has more inmates than Lithonia’s 2,445 citizens.
“It’s a small agency, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be powerful," Pollard said of Lithonia. “With a smaller agency, we have to try to work the best that we can with a budget that reflects the size of the agency.”
The department’s 2020 budget is about $442,000. Lithonia has eight full-time officers, including Pollard, and one civilian employee. There are also 10 part-time reserve officers, a number Pollard said he hopes to increase.
Pollard, who left the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in 2011, was among 12 applicants for the job. His file with the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) records shows no disciplinary history.
The past few years, Pollard has focused on being an instructor at the Fulton County Public Safety Training Center. He also directed traffic for a private company.
Pollard, who has a master’s degree from the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College, said he wants to expand training efforts within his department and increase visibility with residents. He plans to supply officers with bicycles so they can ride through neighborhoods and foster interaction.
However, he make it clear that he’ll show no sympathy for crime in Lithonia, comparing himself to a self-proclaimed “Crime Fighter” in metro Atlanta.
“Those areas that present any kind of issues, I want them to think of me as another Victor Hill," Pollard said, referring to the sheriff of Clayton County. "If you don’t mess up, we’re here to support, but if you come into here to do something you shouldn’t be doing, we’re going to put you up.”
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