A math teacher, an accountant or a police chief — of those career options, Carol Martin said she never imagined herself becoming the third.
The recently sworn-in Gainesville chief, a self-described military brat, started out on a different path at Brenau College.
“My major at Brenau at first was a teacher with math emphasis, then I changed it to accounting and changed it to this,” Martin said.
Friends in law enforcement whom Martin had met around her time at Brenau initiated the change from her previous math emphasis.
“Hearing them talk just got me into it,” she said. “I guess that’s where it changed.”
Martin’s father, Clyde Thomason, retired from the Air Force, a career that led the family to a good bit of relocation during her childhood.
“Even though I have a Southern accent, I was born in Minnesota,” she said.
After 28 years in the business, law enforcement has become a family affair for Martin. Her son, Kasey, is a deputy in the White County Sheriff’s Office. It was not too long ago, Cpls. Kevin Holbrook and Joe Britte said, that a young Kasey would come and walk through the criminal investigations division of the Gainesville Police Department.
“I go home and I hear his rookie stories and I come back to work and I hear the stories here,” Martin said.
Martin was named as the sole finalist for the post Dec. 23 after serving since September in an interim role. It was not until seeing that story in The Times that the realization kicked in.
“That’s when it really became real that, ‘Wow, this just happened.’ It was very surreal,” she said.
Martin said she imagined and hoped to reach the ranks of lieutenant and then captain, but never head of the department. The first month has flown by, she said, as the department preps its budgets for the next year.
The chief post came open when Martin’s predecessor, Brian Kelly, resigned in August under reported pressure from city officials over concerns of low morale in the department. Martin said she hoped to open up the lines of communication to allow officers to tell executive staff about such problem.
“They’ve been told if they want to come up and talk, just let their sergeant or lieutenant know. ... Some people are not quite as comfortable doing that,” she said.
For those workers, a suggestion box has been added. Tasks as simple as putting in recycling bins or re-marking parking spots have been accomplished, Martin said, as a way to take care of small issues.
“It’s back to that family atmosphere once again,” Holbrook said of the Gainesville force.
Norma Hernandez has known Martin for about 20 years since the time Hernandez worked as a Municipal Court clerk. She attests to the chief’s approachable and down-to-earth nature.
“She never changed,” Hernandez said. “She has been like that forever, and now with her new position, it’s incredible, and I’m really proud of her.”
To help a fresh crop of new officers get better acquainted, the department held a holiday meal to meet everyone’s significant others and kids.
“It was a win-win for all of us because we’re all able to sit down and enjoy a meal and talk about other things than law enforcement, just be in a family atmosphere,” Britte said.
That family atmosphere is how Martin views the department: a group of 100 or so in a second family.
“This is 28 years of my family. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. A lot of people retire, grow. You watch them go through the ranks and it’s like watching your family members,” she said.
Two large technological developments took place during Martin’s interim stint: a digital records management system and the expansion of body cameras for officers. Martin said she hopes to have the rest of the cameras by March, and said there are no other big technology changes on the horizon.
“There’s always changes you want to make, but you can’t go in and just change everything right off the bat. You have to take a little bit at a time,” Martin said.
Among her goals are to stay connected to the community. She participated in a recent roundtable community discussion hosted by Gainesville Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras. Martin wants to keep lines of communication open, similar to recent chats held at Mount Zion Baptist Church involving law enforcement and residents.
Hernandez said the Hispanic community in Gainesville and Hall County feels more embraced by law enforcement as a result of the work by Martin and Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch.
“We feel more supported,” Hernandez said. “We feel more in touch with law enforcement, which is very needed.”
The deputy chief position, Martin said, should be filled in the coming months from within the department.
With her two families of law enforcement by her side, there’s one person missing: her mother Sue Thomason, who died last summer.
“That’s the one bad thing,” Martin said. “She didn’t get to see any of this happen.”