HOSCHTON — The Hoschton Police Department lost a veteran officer Friday when police chief David Hill officially retired his badge and bid Hoschton farewell.After nine years as chief, Hill recently resigned to take a job as major of Police Services with the Jefferson Police Department.
In 1990, Hill started his law enforcement career. Before coming to Hoschton, he worked as an officer with the Clarke County, Commerce and Jackson County police departments.
When he joins Jefferson’s police force Monday, Hill will bring with him almost a decade of memories and experiences from Hoschton — both good and bad.
He said out of all he’s encountered over the past nine years, learning to make rational decisions remains the most important lesson he will take with him.
"If you make conscious decisions to do what’s right both morally and ethically, and you can go home and sleep at night," he said. "Then you’ve done your job."
Hill’s decision to join the Hoschton Police Department was one choice that he doubted at first was the right one.
When he started, Hill was not just Hoschton’s police chief, but also its entire police force.
"When I came here there was one officer, and that was me," he said.
During his time as the city’s lone officer, Hill remembers leaving work one day at 2 a.m. only to come back 30 minutes later because the P&G Superette’s alarm had been triggered.
The store’s door had been kicked open, and Hill worked the scene and left for home at 3:45 a.m. Two hours later, dispatch called him about a break-in at P&G, and Hill remembers saying, "‘Yeah, I know, I was just there.’"
The operator responded, "‘No, you don’t understand, it’s been broken into again.’"
"I laid there and cried like a baby, and I said, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’" Hill recalled.
Though stressful, the incident was a good learning experience. "It was something that I look back on now and kind of just smile and say that was a minor issue compared to the whole spectrum of things."
Two city council meetings later, Hill pushed for and received another officer for the force.
Former mayor Billy Holder served Hoschton for 26 years and was in office when the city hired Hill. He referred to the chief as a "good organizer and a good man."
When Hill started, the city’s population began to grow and in response, Hoschton needed a larger police force, said Holder.
Hill was up to that challenge.
"We had to have more officers and better vehicles (and) he fell right in and went to work and did a great job," said Holder. "He’s going to be missed."
At the time, the department dealt mostly with traffic enforcement calls, and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department conducted investigations and provided other services.
With Hill in charge, the department started conducting its own investigations, launched a neighborhood watch program, held monthly public forums until recently and even spearheaded an undercover operation that yielded 16 drug arrests in the city.
Over the years, Hill’s cases have ranged from responding to a call about a beehive in someone’s yard to dealing with a quadruple homicide.
He even helped make one family’s Christmas a little brighter.
Scott Butler, a Hoschton resident for 19 years, said three weeks before Christmas, during Hill’s first or second year on the force, someone stole his family’s plastic snowman from their yard.
His daughter, Blythe, who was eight-years-old at the time, immediately asked her father what happened to the family’s beloved snowman.
Not knowing who else to turn to, Butler asked "Capt. Dave," if he could somehow keep an eye out for the missing snowman.
Two weeks later, the family received a huge surprise coming home one day.
"As we’re coming up the driveway, there sits our white snowman back again, plugged in and everything," said Butler. "We will always remember him (Hill) for that."
If anyone embodies a real-life version of Andy Taylor from the Andy Griffith Show, Butler said Hill would be an ideal choice.
"He’s that kind of leader and that kind of man," he said.
Missing snowmen aside, a more major incident, and one Hill will always carry with him, involved the quadruple homicide that occurred off Pendergrass Road on May 30, 2006.
"It’s something I’ll never forget," said Hill about the case. "You take a quiet little town, you have four people murdered in one location, a fire on top of it, (and) you have a suspect that was the father of two of the children."
Henry Lee Stringer now faces the death penalty for killing and burning Evelyn Strickland, 68, her daughter, Marvelette J’Laine Strickland, 29, and Marvelette’s and Stringer’s two children, 4-year-old J’Majuan Stringer and 2-year-old J’Lasia Stringer.
Stringer is still awaiting trial and faces multiple charges of murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, cruelty to children and arson.
Nothing, Hill said, prepared him for a case like that, but "a lot of prayer," helped him cope.
"I spend a lot of time doing some heavy praying about my decisions and just hoping that the Lord will give me some guidance on making the right decisions," he said.
One issue that both Hill and the police department have recently asked residents and the city council for guidance on involves what the department’s future should be.
For much of 2009, the department has dealt with a tighter budget, decreasing revenues and a smaller staff. Two full-time positions were cut from this year’s budget, reducing the police force from seven officers to five. With Hill leaving, the department will be left with four officers. Capt. Jeremy Howell has been appointed as interim chief.
Dealing with all these factors can make work frustrating sometimes, but when this happens, Hill said he reminds himself of why he chose a law enforcement career.
"I think about the victims and families and the loss that they had," he said. "I guess that motivates me to keep things going and (to) fight so hard for things that I do."
As Hill closes the door on his career with Hoschton and opens another with his move to Jefferson, the chief said he gave the small city not only nine years of his life, but also almost a decade of his dedication.
"The last nine years were emotional, satisfying, and in the end, I’m leaving here with more than I came with," he said. "I feel that I’ve left the city of Hoschton with everything I could have given it."