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Chief Austin: A look back and a look forward

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Some have said that 2020 felt like it lasted for a decade. And, in many ways, this rang true for the Milton Police Department. But as chief, I could not be prouder of the MPD’s exceptional men and women and how they handled the multiple challenges that were unprecedented in our profession. Also, the response by our fellow city staff, elected officials, and especially Milton’s citizens, reinforced what a special community we share. 

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AUSTIN

As with everyone and everything in 2020, COVID-19 impacted us at the MPD. Yet while we set up our civilian office staff to work from home (at least partially), our patrol officers and detectives remained full force on duty to ensure our citizens’ seamless access to police services. Notably, the call volume dipped significantly at the initial lockdown’s height, and citizens were very altruistic and considerate when faced with changing protocols. And the pandemic affected our team personally, despite our taking recommended precautions, as several MPD employees (both sworn and civilian) contracted the dreaded virus. Fortunately, none required hospitalization, and the cases were spread far enough apart that it did not affect operations significantly.

One of our biggest challenges (which ran concurrently with the COVID-19 pandemic) was national scrutiny about policing. Amid the initial outcry for criminal justice reforms following George Floyd’s horrific death, the MPD was caught up in waves of broad-brush criticism of police officers. However, we quickly assured citizens that our department already utilized (and continues to employ) the best practices that many reformers were calling for. This national conversation turned into an opportunity for our department to connect with many people and to provide information about what we do daily to keep our citizens safe in a procedurally just manner. We also listened to — and, in some cases, implemented — suggestions from our community. One was to develop a Chief’s Advisory Board to help ensure I hear consistently and honestly from all facets of our community. This group has met monthly to discuss new, innovative ways for the MPD to fulfil our mission for all. And the group is a great forum to present ideas for service and engagement. I’m very appreciative of the work this group has done so far and so excited about what we will do together in 2021.

And in looking forward to 2021, the MPD is eager to pursue innovative ways to engage our citizens during this pandemic. Absent large face-to-face events, this will mean enhanced virtual interactions. And we’re also excited for the end of the pandemic when we can finally fully invite our citizens to our new Public Safety Complex (which, by the way, opened last August on time and on budget thanks to the diligent work of many throughout our city). Our department is also preparing in 2021 to renew our national certification. While long and arduous, this certification process ensures that we continue to utilize national best practices in policing.

In closing, I’d like to thank our citizens for their support during this very difficult year. It means more than you know. We look forward to continuing in service in 2021, doing our part to keep Milton once of Georgia’s safest cities.

Rich Austin is the Chief of Police for Milton. He can be reached at rich.austin@cityofmiltonga.us or 678-242-2570.

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