COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Columbus has a new interim police chief, and he was introduced Monday morning at a news conference.
Stoney Mathis will be taking over the Columbus Police Department while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement for former Chief Freddie Blackmon.
Mathis takes over a department that has been struggling with staff shortages, management issues, and morale problems.
Mathis told those at the Public Safety Center that he expects to be in the interim role for six months. There is an ongoing search for a permanent police chief.
Mathis retired as chief of the Fairburn Police Department. He says he did his homework before taking the Columbus job. The Georgia Police Chiefs Association helped the city find Mathis.
“Reading in the paper, you know, there’s a culture problem here in the Columbus Police Department,” he said. “It takes a little while to change the culture, but you can change the atmosphere very quickly. And that’s my goal, is to change the atmosphere.”
Mathis has nearly three decades of law enforcement experience. Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson is clear about why Mathis is in Columbus and what his role will be.
“He’s not a change agent as much as he is somebody who’s going to come in and do an assessment, take a look at where there are some areas that we can begin to build foundational improvement and leave a positive path for the next chief coming in on a permanent basis,” the mayor said.
A number of Columbus Police officers listened as Mathis took questions from the media. The new chief knows there are problems in the department. Those issues have been on display over the last year as former Chief Freddie Blackmon came under fire inside and outside the department.
“This is the third department I have went into that the news media and citizens have a perception there are problems,” Mathis said. “And never is it as bad as it seems to be.”
A search for full-time chief is underway, but Mathis plans to be active in what could be a six-month stint as the interim chief.
“I’m not a person to sit idly by,” he said. “The status quo is not my personality. Mediocrity is not my personality. So, I’m going to come in and raise the level of morale. That’s my goal. Build relationships with the community. That’s my second goal. So, we’re going to do that and I’m not going to be doing that sitting behind my desk. My management style is I manage by walking around, so everybody in this room that’s got a uniform on will see me in the next couple of weeks and you’re going to have the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with me. And I want to find out how you feel about the Columbus Police Department.”
City Councilor Charmaine Crabb says that Mathis is what she was hoping for in the interim.
“I think that the citizens and the police department want to have a very strong presence,” Crabb said. “I think they want to be listened to. They don’t want to be micromanaged. He mentioned those items. He’s a just a lot of the things that he described himself as the leader is what I have been hearing from the citizens and from the police department that they want in their chief.”
We asked about the Columbus gang problem. Here’s what he had to say.
“Every community this size has a gang problem,” the interim chief said. “And the people that tell you that they don’t, they just don’t understand the data. We have got a gang problem that needs to be addressed. What I’ve got to do is look at the data here in Columbus and see where the hotspots are, where are the gangs committing the crimes, because those are the areas we need to target.”
And Mathis said that part of the answer to that is community policing.
“And earlier when I talked about community policing, part of community policing is enforcing the laws,” he said. “We have to enforce the laws because there are people in those communities that are living in their homes like a prison. They can’t go out on the street because of the gangs. They can’t go to the grocery store because of the gangs. Every person in the United States, especially in Columbus, deserves to be safe in their own home.”