Gerald Couch harbors a certain view of how police leaders shoulder responsibility.
An officer in charge should remain calm, controlled and focused. He should be level-headed, serve as a resource for the men and women in his charge, and when necessary, help them to “get things working.” To residents who are served, a police leader should deliver respect and dignity, he said.
This is how Couch, 48, patrolled the streets and approached crime scenes in Hall County as a sheriff’s deputy and investigator for 30 years. This is what Gainesville residents and its police alike should expect from the Gainesville Police Department’s new major.
“Especially when you’re in a leadership role, you should arrive with a calm presence,” he said, “and support the officers around you.”
Chief Brian Kelly will swear Couch into service this morning during a private ceremony with friends, family and fellow Gainesville officers.
Couch’s arrival to the department will bring about a significant change in the command structure established in a new organizational chart.
As the only major, Couch will report directly to Kelly as the chief’s second in command. Reporting to the major will be, essentially, the rest of the department including the 100 sworn officers.
They will be divided into Operations and Support Services bureaus and Internal Affairs and Accreditation/Certification units.
In another change, a Community Relations unit will answer to Couch directly. As part of that branch, Master Police Officers Joe Britte and Kevin Holbrook will lead crime analysis efforts, public and media relations and other community outreach programs.
“Being a 30-year veteran, Gerald Couch is extremely knowledgeable about our community and our police organization,”
Kelly said, after announcing Couch’s selection from a field of 28 candidates. “He is highly motivated, has a high level of self-initiative, is invested in our community and wants to do all he can to assist in making our community one of the safest around.”
When deciding on Couch as his selection, Kelly was drawn to the North Hall man’s extensive knowledge base as a senior law enforcement officer in Hall County.
Couch retired on April 8 as the longest-serving deputy with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Richard Mecum hired Couch at age 19.
“For 10 of my first 11 months, I was a jailer in the old 36th Street jail,” Couch said, smiling. “That was a real jail with the iron bars and the whole thing. It was surreal. I was amazed by that.”
The next year Couch was patrolling the streets, a position he held for nine years. During that time he trained other deputies how to do the job, as well.
“It’s kind of unusual. I came from a happy home with married parents and never saw anyone arguing, to being thrust into situations where people were fighting and arguing,” Couch said. “I learned from that experience.”
Mecum promoted Couch to detective in the early 1990s. He would go on to become a specialist in the field of investigations, rising to the rank of lieutenant as he worked rape, assault, domestic violence and homicide cases, among others.
“I have always enjoyed a challenge of working a case,” Couch said. “Part of that is making something so horrific right in some way.”
In addition to earning a breadth of management and internal affairs experience, Couch embraced investigative training. Several sessions took place in Miami-Dade, Fla., with its busy homicide detectives and medical examiners.
Couch recalled one instance in which a detective woke him up at the hotel to announce a car would arrive in 10 minutes.
“He said, ‘We have a SWAT situation, we know two to three people are dead, and there may be more in the house,’” Couch said. “That call was at 5:30 a.m. ... We worked more homicide cases with them than five years here... I remember being very happy to come home to Hall County.”
While Kelly expects Couch will take time forming his assessments of the Gainesville department, it’s likely the new major will take a more active approach on matters such as criminal investigations.
Receiving status updates on open cases is among his priorities, as is training officers for those more complicated cases of violence. “I want to make sure we are prepared,” Couch said.
He also intends to learn more about what forensic technologies exist and need strengthened at Gainesville’s new crime lab.
Science is a strong component to convictions in court, Couch said, a lesson law enforcement learned during the mid-90s when homicide rates here spiked and juries demanded more proof.
Hall County prosecutors nodded to Couch as a professional they regard highly for his thoroughness and professionalism.
“I’m thrilled we’re keeping him in the law enforcement presence in our community,” said Hall County Solicitor General
Stephanie Woodard. “When you do what I do, you see it. The caliber of education, of professionalism, of law enforcement skill that now leads Gainesville is on par with (the best) in our state.”
Couch admitted it may take him a while to get used to the ins and outs of the new public safety complex in Gainesville.
But he expects the police work to be done there will feel as familiar as ever.
“I still get to serve the people in the community where I live,” Couch said. “Chief Kelly has a great vision for the department. And we’re going to move forward.”