CHIEF TERRY DAVIS
Ask Hahira, Georgia Police Chief Terry Davis what his greatest challenge has been and you get a somewhat unexpected answer. He doesn’t mention speeders, burglars, wife beaters or teens who abuse drugs. Instead he says it is making sure his annual budget is adequate to retain his capable, well trained officers.
Davis explains he has to compete with the much higher salaries being paid by the sheriff’s office and the Georgia State Department of Public Safety. Budgeting is traditionally a challenge in small towns because the city manager, mayor and city council do their best to hold down taxes.
His budget includes just $20,000 for housing people arrested in one of the two county jails the department uses. This suggests the number of arrests required in Hahira is extremely limited.
His department has an assignment that some may consider an unusual. When a resident lets the grass grow more than 10 inches tall his officers “red tag” the front door knob to remind them it is time to mow. They also ask property owners to remove junk cars and all debris around their houses. This makes Hahira a very clean and unusually attractive small community.
Because the schools are considered to be excellent and parents feel their children will be safe in Hahira the population has increased by 68 percent in ten years. Hahira is a bedroom community, roughly a dozen miles north of the much larger city of Vadosta. It also attracts families with ties to Moody Air Force Base.
But the schools add to the department’s workload. With 800 youngsters in the elementary school and 900 in the middle school there are long lines of cars dropping children off or waiting to pick up their youngsters at the end of the day. The streets weren’t designed to handle that much traffic, Davis explains.
Hahira police do have to deal with a serious crime now and then. Shortly after being named police chief 15 years ago, for the first time in the city’s history, one of the banks, just around the corner from the police station, was robbed.
There are two group homes in Hahira, Davis said. But there is only one or two people in each one, and the individuals there were described as “docile” by Davis. So there have been no incidents. And no homeless people with mental problems sleeping in doorways.
Last year he bought Tasers for his officers so they could avoid using their lethal weapons.
“We have a guy in town who works out all the time. He could probably bench press a Toyota. A Taser might save his life someday. We always look to the future,” Davis explains.
He is working with the FBI on a Craig’s list scam that involves a local resident. The crooks who tried to cheat the local resident were caught in Alaska. He tells Hahira residents to never to let a buyer or seller go to their home. He tells them the transaction should take place in front of the police station. This weeds out the would-be crooks quickly.
While we were talking to Davis a mother stopped by to tell him her son – in a program for problem children about 70 miles from home – was being transformed into a better person. He noted that is how it is supposed to work in a small town. The mother trusted him enough to drop by to discuss her personal situation with the police chief. And he takes the time to meet with residents.
Davis has been with the department 35 years, starting out in his early 20s and working his way up from patrolman and to chief when the former chief moved on to greener l. Other departments offer officers a great deal more money but he finds living and working in Hahira the ideal life.