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Brian Kelly sworn in as new Gainesville police chief
Gainesville Police Chief Brian Kelly

Gainesville welcomed its new police chief Monday in a brief ceremony to make official his role at the helm of the city department.

And after Brian Kelly took his oath of office at the Georgia Mountains Center, he emphasized his commitment to making Gainesville "one of the safest communities" to work and live in Georgia.

Kelly takes over after the department went more than four months with interim leadership.

Now, Kelly, a 14-year veteran of the department, will be in charge of about 120 people, including just more than 100 sworn police officers. He also will oversee the department’s long-awaited move into a much larger headquarters on Queen City Parkway later this year.

Former Police Chief Frank Hooper retired at the end of 2009 after 32 years.

In a speech following his swearing in by City Manager Kip Padgett, Kelly promised to embrace a community-based policing strategy.

He promised openness to the community, but called on residents to do their part to keep Gainesville safe.

"Understand that public safety is not a spectator sport," Kelly said. "Safe neighborhoods are the result of people and their police working together to create communities capable of sustaining civic life."

Kelly also promised to empower his subordinates and encourage "responsible risk-taking and thinking outside of the box" from his patrol officers and investigators.

Under his leadership, Kelly said "willful incompetence will not be ignored, good work will be recognized and honest mistakes will be dealt with differently than misconduct."

Prior to his appointment as chief, Kelly, 37, was promoted to lieutenant in 2003.

Kelly, who was the primary public spokesman for the department until last year, beat out more than 70 applicants for the position, a field that was narrowed to about a dozen candidates in mid-April.

As Kelly took the oath Monday, his former boss Hooper was on hand. Watching the ceremony, Hooper said, felt like a fulfillment of his own purpose as chief.

Kelly’s promotion to sergeant in 1998 was one of the first promotions Hooper made after he became chief in 1997, he said.

Both Kelly and Hooper were appointed chief from the rank of lieutenant, and Hooper said Kelly was prepared for the job.

"Part of my job and part of Chief Kelly’s job from this day forward is going to be to groom his replacement — and not just one or two people but several folks," Hooper said. "And that’s what I tried to do was to groom several folks so that the city manager would have several to choose from internally."

Having a chief chosen from within the department was important to Capt. Chad White, the department’s support services bureau commander and interim chief for about a month and a half.

Former Deputy Chief Jane Nichols served as interim chief before White, but retired in mid-March.

"(Picking an internal candidate) sends a good message to the person that walks through our doors — ‘You start off as a patrol officer, one day you can be the chief of police of the Gainesville Police Department,’" White said.

Kelly began at the Gainesville department as a patrol officer in 1996.

"His whole goal from day one was to be chief, and he has been successful," White said.

With new leadership, changes are sure to come in the department, no matter how subtle, but White said he expects the changes will be positive.

"(Kelly) understands people," White said. "Brian leads by example. I guess, so to speak, he walks the walk and talks the talk."

And as he addressed his new employees Monday, Kelly, who said he had achieved his ultimate goal, promised to help fellow members of the police department reach their goals and promote an environment of idealism.

"I recognize that police work is hard and that it can be emotionally debilitating. I know about the frustrations of the work and the constant risk of demoralizing cynicism," Kelly said. "But I also know that our work has meaning. If anyone lives a purpose-driven life, it is a police officer and their civilian counterparts. The greatest antidote to cynicism is a sense of accomplishment, accompanied by community support and acceptance."