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Chief Jay Parrish reflects on time with mentor Carol Martin, looks ahead
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Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish - photo by Scott Rogers

It was three, maybe four days after he graduated from the police academy, and rookie Gainesville Police officer Jay Parrish wasn’t even supposed to be out on the road with his field training officer.

The first few days in uniform are filled with administrative duties, and Parrish’s task simply was driving to the dealership.

“I was just supposed to be carrying some officers to pick up some cars, and this call comes out: ‘This guy’s got a gun,’” the new Gainesville Police Chief Parrish said of his first week with Gainesville Police in January 2000.

A man who robbed a thrift store ran to the old Shoney’s on Jesse Jewell Parkway. It was the scene of Parrish’s first encounter with his mentor, supervisor and friend, outgoing Chief Carol Martin.

“It’s been 20 years watching him grow up through the department,” Martin said.

Martin will end her shift for the last time with Gainesville Police on Jan. 31, though her heart and soul will remain with those behind the badge.

She admittedly got choked up at her final Gainesville City Council meeting, receiving praise from her successor and a standing ovation from the packed house.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s been a part of my life for more than I’ve done anything else,” she said.

The next month for Martin will be relaxation before she returns to spend time with the many organizations she’s affiliated with, including Rape Response and the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children.

Outside of her community efforts, she said she will read her books on serial killers, work on keeping things alive in her garden and spend more time with family.

Martin joined the department as a patrol officer in 1987. Since then, she was promoted through the ranks of investigator, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and major until she was appointed chief in August 2014.

“I was scared to death. I didn’t want to let anybody down. This department means a lot to me, and these people are my family. It is something that I had never aspired to do. I was just asked to do it and finally told them yes,” Martin said about taking on the job.

Her greatest challenge came in her second and third year when an exodus of employees cited pay as their reason to leave. Last January, the department was able to bring the starting pay for a certified officer to $40,010.88, up from $35,543.

“I lost a lot of sleep when we were losing people due to pay, because we do have one of the best departments around. But people have got to be able to feed their families and provide for them,” she said.

Martin considered pay as the last checkmark before she started thinking more seriously about the prospect of retirement.

She leaves her post with someone who has had a similar path working his way to the top.

A graduate of North Hall High School and North Georgia College and State University, Parrish rose to the rank of deputy chief as Martin’s right-hand man.

“Chief Martin’s advice wasn’t always about this building. She cared about me as an individual. She made sure my marriage was healthy, that I knew how to be a father, that I knew how to take care of these officers ... It was very much making sure that I was well-rounded,” he said.

As the torch passes, Parrish said one of his big priorities will be focusing on a dedicated section of the department for the midtown and downtown sector.

“We’re going to have to create a unique way of policing there, a directed way of policing. Most towns and cities that have venues like that have a dedicated part of their police force to police that,” he said.

This may involve more foot patrols as well as face-to-face interactions between officers and both residents and merchants. An officer in that unit would be dedicated to making the area safer by understanding the potential issues of parking or noise complaints, Parrish said.

In his first speech after his swearing-in ceremony Jan. 22, two issues Parrish focused on were opioid abuse and mental health.

The chief mentioned efforts like the Rhode Island State Police implementing a more wrap-around style of response and follow-up services.

“On the opioid crisis, where can the police department help in getting some intel on what’s going on to help fix the problem? And I think the same thing on mental health. We probably have mental health contacts, reaching people in their moments of crisis. But we may not be doing the best job in the world of making sure they get follow-up resources,” he said.

Parrish said he will continue the community outreach efforts pushed by Chief Martin, something Sgt. Kevin Holbrook described as “humanizing the badge.”

“The guys know what I expected. You don’t just ride around with the windows rolled up. If you see someone out there cutting grass, get out and say hey to them,” Martin said.

When asked about the date she chose for retirement, Martin said she didn’t want to leave in December and not reach her work anniversary.

“I wanted that 32 years,” she said.