COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — In the two and a half months Stoney Mathis has been the interim Columbus Police chief, he has been given the authority to make policy changes.
Some are big – like the pending move to go from 10-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts in the Patrol Division.
Then there are small ones that turn out to be big.
Something as simple as a uniform ball cap does not sound like a big deal. Does it? Well, when it came to the Patrol Division, it was.
Back in June, the Columbus Police Department provided security for the Georgia GOP Convention that brought former President Donald Trump to town.
It was hot.
“So, when we were here doing that GOP thing, the police officers were out there in the sun,” Mathis said. “And I am going bald and I was standing out there with them. I said, ‘Man that sun is hot, how come y’all don’t wear ball caps with those uniforms?’ They said, ‘We are not allowed to, Chief. It’s against our policy.'”
Mathis responded that they must be kidding.
“‘The only cap we can wear is the campaign hat,'” Mathis said. “‘What about those guys over there?’ They said, ‘They work for Columbus State University they are allowed to wear hats.’ OK.”
Cpl. Christian Westbrook is a five-year veteran in the Patrol Division. He tells us what happened next.
“Chief Mathis came in and said, ‘Well, that’s stupid. Let me fix that,'” Westbrook said. “And had it fixed — the fastest I have ever seen anything happen here.”
Mathis told the story during a speech to the Rotary Club of Columbus Wednesday afternoon. He talked about how and why he made such a subtle change with great speed.
“About 10 o’clock that night, I had been out there with them guys all day long, I sent an email just thanking them for giving up their entire weekend to be here to protect the citizens and to protect the visitors,” Mathis said. “And the second part of that email is, ‘Monday, that policy is changing. You will be allowed to wear ball caps.”
The response from the force came quickly.
“I went to bed that night,” Mathis said. “About 7 o’clock the next morning when I got up I had about 32 email responses. From police officers. ‘We never have seen anything like this, chief. Did you go home and get drunk last night and send this out?’”
Mathis thinks he knows why there was such a reaction in the ranks.
“They were not used to being treated like a part of a team,” he said. “It was almost like they were treated, ‘You work for me, you shut up, keep your mouth shut and do as I tell you to do.’”
The irony, the patrol officers have a cap in their equipment allotment.
“That is one of the things I never understood when I got here. ‘You issued me this ball cap, but I am not allowed to wear it except on the range,” Westbrook said. “But I got to keep track of it. I can’t lose it. And I am only allowed to wear it once a year.”
Mathis told WRBL last month that he has applied for the full-time job. He’s currently in the interview process like all of the other candidates.
The mayor says the city should have a new chief named by late September or early October. The mayor will make a recommendation that must be approved by the council.
Mathis does carry the interim tag, but he has been given the authority by Henderson and the city council to make changes inside the department.
And he’s wasting no time.
Mathis didn’t pull punches speaking to a large crowd of Rotarians and guests on Wednesday.
He was blunt about the issues in the department.
“We’re going to transform where these officers feel like they’re beat up, beat down back to one of the best police departments in the state.” Mathis said. “And how we’re going to do that; we’re going to start off by treating the police officers with the utmost respect. Because oftentimes police officers treat the citizens exactly the way they’re being treated.”
And Mathis made it clear he would like the full-time position.
“When I first applied and told the (Georgia Chiefs of Police Association) I would come down here. I had several of my police chief friends around the country tell me, ‘Have you lost your mind? You want that to be your legacy?’” Mathis said. “And I stand in front of you today and tell you, yes, I want this to be my legacy because I believe that they have the potential here in Columbus to be one of the best police departments in the state.”