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Kelly notes progress in 1st year as police chief
Police chief hopes to cut burglaries down
One year ago, Brian Kelly was sworn in as the police chief for the Gainesville Police Department. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Brian Kelly can't believe he has served at the helm of Gainesville's police department for a year already.

"It's been exciting, and it's been quick. Wow, it has been a year," Kelly said Tuesday, which marked the anniversary of his swearing-in ceremony as police chief before the Gainesville City Council.

During the last year, Kelly oversaw the opening of the Featherbone Communiversity precinct in May, the creation of the Proactive Community Enforcement Unit in June and the move into the Queen City Parkway public safety building in November.

"The PACE unit is still growing and changing, but the idea is to work with other entities to maybe look at a dilapidated house or a business with insufficient lighting that attracts crime," he said. "It's not 100 percent policing work, but it's thinking outside of the box to address the community's concerns."

The unit is just one example of Kelly's goal to involve the police department in the lives of Gainesville residents.

"We are representatives of the community we serve. We go to the same churches and clubs. We're not separate from the citizens," he said. "From a family violence incident to bullying in school to the criminal element targeting businesses for burglary, we're the front line."

Kelly sets up a vivid analogy for his officers to remember. They're the sheepdogs who protect the sheep from the wolves, he said.

"That's why I wanted to be a police officer," Kelly said. "We're between the flock and the wolves, and I try to instill that idea."

In June, Kelly will mark 17 years as a police officer. He spent two years with the University of Georgia Department of Public Safety and another 15 as a Gainesville officer, including roles as a patrol officer, field training officer, sergeant assigned to the community policing program, commander of criminal investigations, public spokesman for the department, and head of the traffic services and special events division
Though Kelly's father served as chief of police in Cairo, Kelly didn't decide on law enforcement as a career until he received nearly three years of college studies in wildlife management. Now he wouldn't choose anything else.

"I think the chief, in his first year, worked tirelessly to move the police department into the next generation of policing where it's proactive rather than reactive," said Sgt. Jay Parrish. "He put measures into place to help the flow of information and reorganization so we can find the trends instead of sitting back and waiting."

Some of Kelly's toughest decisions this year came during the internal reorganization.

"You don't want to make people upset, and it's tough when you have to look at each person's strengths and the betterment of the agency," Kelly said. "Now I have a bird's eye view with all of the divisions and all of the units in mind, and sometimes it takes time for them to understand."

Kelly puts heavy emphasis on morale and open lines of communication, especially during a tough budget year.

"I want to instill buy-in and ownership. I want someone to look at a project and see their piece of the pie," he said. "I don't want 113 robots. Our 113 employees bring in experience and different ideas, and if I don't tap into that resource, I'm missing the boat."

Kelly made it a goal to conduct a review of the agency and hold one-on-one meetings with employees this year. He also conducts weekly and monthly meetings with commanders and department heads.

"He's definitely demonstrated that he's a catalyst for positive change and direction for this police department," said Officer Doug Whiddon, who is part of the PACE unit. "He's engaged in our operations and is willing to listen to input."

Kelly holds individual interviews with the staff and asks three questions: What do you like? What don't you like? What should I quit doing?

"I try to know something about each person, and I can't believe I haven't completed my one-on-one talks yet," he said. "I don't want to ever forget where I came from or separate from the boots on the ground who know what's going on."

During the meetings, officers have brought forward several ideas that Kelly is working to implement, including an annual awards banquet for staffers.

"Recognition is important, and we're rewriting our reward policy to have some type of tangible ribbon or medal to show for their work," Kelly said. "It also encourages friendly competition and motivation, and it doesn't cost much, just time."

For his second year as police chief, Kelly will oversee the construction of a new outdoor gun range on Fullenwider Road. He hopes to expand it into a training facility that will house classrooms and a defensive driving simulator for other agencies to use.

"We should pool resources in economically trying times, and collectively we can do it better than singularly," he said. "We're currently looking at funding and grants for that."

Kelly and staff are also looking at a new records management system to help the department to go paperless when writing citations and incident reports. It would help coordination with the Municipal Court and the ability to track trends.

Kelly specifically wants to cut down on burglary and entering auto incidents around the city.

"I don't know what next year is going to bring in terms of the budget," Kelly said. "But we have a service to provide, and we will provide it, no matter what."