CENTERVILLE -- Ed Tucker took the helm of the Centerville’s police force Wednesday -- sort of.
As the new director of police services, he’ll oversee administration and personnel. He won’t have oversight of law enforcement operations until he goes to law enforcement mandate and police chief’s school.
Centerville police Lt. Phillip Pritchett, the senior ranking police officer who heads the patrol division, is the “interim law enforcement head for the Centerville police department until such a time as the chief’s position is filled -- that would be after Eddie Tucker is mandated,” said Councilman Jon Nichols.
Tucker, a 52-year-old veteran educator and a Georgia Army National Guard officer, resigned from the council Tuesday to take the new post that was also created the same night. Council also abolished the position of assistant chief of police, which immediately ended that person’s employment with the city.
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Tucker, along with Mayor John Harley and Nichols, said nothing was pre-contrived with the turn of events that began with the former police chief’s resignation, nor do those events signal any gross problems or issues within the police department.
Faced with filling a vacant police chief position, Harley said he casually suggested that Tucker consider the job.
Nichols said Harley was simply thinking “outside of the box” when he approached Tucker and thinks the city now has someone with experience they might not otherwise have been able to find.
Tucker said heading the police department wasn’t on his radar until approached by Harley and Nichols. Tucker said he had been looking at another opportunity upon his expected retirement for the Houston County school system in the 2015-2016 school year.
Harley said as council members and staff looked at the police department after Andrews’ departure, there were some “minor” administrative issues that needed tweaking.
A 2010-2011 Southwest Asia deployment gave Tucker valuable experience he thinks led council to consider him, although he has no law enforcement experience.
“My job was to manage support, outfit, supervise, administratively do evaluations -- you name it,” Tucker said. “Those things were done for those soldiers like you would in police force.”
Under Georgia law, only a trained certified law enforcement officer may serve as a police chief or sheriff.
Council’s plan is for Tucker to serve part-time at $29 an hour in the new role until his retirement from the school system. Afterward, he will attend police mandate training and chief of police school.
Pritchett, who has served about 13 years in law enforcement, including 8 1/2 years with the Centerville police force, is expected to attend the next chief of police school in September in order to qualify him for his interim role, confirmed City Attorney Rebecca Tydings.
Tucker’s salary is expected to about $58,000 to $60,000 once he completes police training.
“We have an understanding, but no contract,” Harley said. Once Tucker takes on the role of police chief, the director of police services position will be eliminated, Harley said.
Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, said the Centerville police agency’s reorganization was “not the ideal way to go.”
Rotondo said, preferably, the person serving over the police department would have law enforcement experience in order “to know the business” of policing and “not succumb to politics.”
He also thinks having Tucker serve in the part-time role may create a liability risk for the city. For example, if Tucker went to a crime scene, he might open the city up to questions that a crime scene has been contaminated by someone not trained in law enforcement, Rotondo said.
Harley declined to comment on potential liability. But he earlier said that the city attorney did her homework to ensure that the situation meets all applicable state laws and provisions. Meanwhile, Tucker said he respectfully disagrees with Rotondo.
“Just because he wouldn’t have followed that course that doesn’t mean our course is wrong,” Tucker said.
Tucker’s first day at work in his new role was Wednesday.
“Time will tell,” Tucker said. “I cherish the opportunity. It’s humbling that council feels this strongly about me as a person and in my leadership skills that I’ve gathered through the Guard and education and other things, and I look forward to the challenge.”
Andrews and W.G. Cooley, the former assistant chief, could not be reached for comment. Cooley had not accepted the city-offered severance package as of Friday, Tydings said.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.