Soon after beginning the job of protecting the city’s increasingly diverse population of more than 13,000 residents on Aug. 1, the new chief helped to officially open the new police headquarters on Richard Sailors Parkway, hired new personnel, and introduced a series of plans for the department.
“It’s been an exciting time. I’m very proud to be in Powder Springs,” Sewell said. “The department was without a chief for some time, and so I think it was important to organize and find direction for the department. I’ve had a very good reception from the public, and of course, the elected officials have given me tremendous support.”
Sewell took over the department after former police chief L. Rick Richardson was fired in February for allegedly selling city property without authorization.
In July, the Powder Springs City Council unanimously voted to hire Sewell, who previously served as police chief in McMinnville, Tenn. The council also increased the chief’s salary to $90,000, up from $75,000.
Councilwoman Rosalyn Neal, who recently won a second term on the Council, said she thinks Sewell has gotten off to a good start.
Neal is the council’s police liaison, along with Councilman Al Thurman, and said she and her fellow members have no plans to stand in the way of Sewell’s plans to improve the department.
“We can’t micromanage,” she said. “Whatever he does is fine with us right now.”
When Sewell took over the department, he said he was faced with vacant high-level positions within the department and an aging vehicle fleet in need of replacement. After learning local and state laws, as well as getting acquainted with residents and other law enforcement officials in the county, Sewell set out to make changes.
One of the first things he did was conduct an employee survey to give him direction as to where to take the department, he said. He has asked the city to declare surplus equipment to reallocate the funds, and he’s filled seven supervisory and upper management positions, and three patrol officer positions in the department.
The department now has 29 police officers, plus five civilian staff.
A tip sheet program has been started that requires every officer to regularly find a resident in public and give him or her a tip sheet, which contains helpful public safety information. The program aims to help residents put a face with the badge.
“Too many times I’ve been to the scene of a crime after something happened and a citizen tells me, ‘Well, just before this occurred, I saw something suspicious,’” Sewell said.
“When I ask them what happened when you called police, they say, ‘I didn’t call police. I didn’t want to bother you.’ (But) what they’re really saying is I was uncomfortable calling police because I don’t know you.”
Another new addition is the use of police software to conduct crime mapping, the electronic version of tracking crime with push pins on a map.
“At any shift, the supervisor can look at the map and see where the hotspots are, and that’s where we know to deploy our police officers,” Sewell said.
The 2010 crime statistics reported by the department included two murders, three rapes, seven robberies, 19 aggravated assaults, 135 burglaries, 209 larcenies and 30 auto thefts in the city. One of the keys to fighting crime, Sewell said, is keeping neighborhoods in good condition, which shows criminals that the residents actively care.
He said the department will begin working with the Community Development Department to begin “aggressive” code enforcement to keep neighborhoods spruced and protect property values. It’ll also work to maintain the cleanliness of parks and sidewalks, he said.
Among other new plans, Sewell said the department will soon re-start a citizen police academy, which it had in the past; work with a local church to rebuild areas affected by the 2009 flood; and make public presentations to listen to residents’ concerns.
“We want to break down barriers, have more informed citizens, and teach citizens police procedures,” the chief said. “I want to develop a volunteer base, perhaps through people who have been through the citizens police academy or other means, in order to develop a civilian patrol, so that we can have more eyes and ears on the Silver Comet Trail and other trails owned by the city.”
A typical day for Sewell begins around 7:30 a.m., when he arrives at his office. If he’s lucky, he’ll leave work nearly 12 hours later at 7 p.m. The chief’s schedule these days is filled with overseeing the department, reviewing policy, meeting the public – such as when he read to Compton Elementary School students on Friday – and occasionally he visits different areas of Powder Springs to get acquainted with the city.
Sewell previously worked in Georgia as chief of the Morrow Police Department in Clayton County. He and his wife relocated from Tennessee and now live just outside the Powder Springs city limits.
“This is not my first time as chief,” Sewell said. “I realize that the first three months will be very, very busy and in a lot of cases just very time consuming. But it’s been very rewarding and I’m very pleased with the direction the department is going.”