COVINGTON, Ga. - With more than 128 years of combined policing experience under the belts of the Covington Police Department (CPD) command staff, Police Chief Stacey Cotton said he could not do his job without the men and women in his department.
Monday night during the Covington City Council meeting, Cotton was surprised to be recognized for his 30 years of service.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the men and women who wear the uniform,” he said. “We’re very blessed; we’re a very close family.
“We are what we are because of the men and women and what they do every day. I just get to lock the door and turn the lights out.”
Cotton said he was the baby of the department with just 30 years. Captain of the Support Services Division Craig Treadwell has 35 years with CPD, while Captain of the Uniform Patrol Division Philip Bradford has 32 years and Captain of the Criminal Investigations Division Ken Malcom has 31 years. Cotton also named recently retired Assistant Chief Almond Turner who had 45 years of service with the department.
Cotton started recognizing officers for 30 years of service a few years ago in special staff presentations, and when his 30 years rolled around, Bradford said Cotton needed to also have a special recognition.
Along with his 30-year anniversary with the department, which was met on Jan. 15 of this year, Cotton is looking forward to celebrating 20 years as police chief Dec. 11 of this year.
“If you look at the average tenure of a police chief around the State of Georgia, I’m sure around the country, you don’t see chiefs working in an organization that long,” Malcom said, noting the average tenure in the state for a police chief is three to five years.
“He is a top-quality person,” Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Frank Rotondo said. “I want to say how much we at the GACP appreciate Chief Cotton’s commitment to professional policing.”
30 years of changes
With years of experience, the command staff of CPD has seen Covington change and find its identity as part of the Metro Atlanta area, Cotton said.
Treadwell said crime investigations have changed completely as the majority of the perpetrators are coming from outside the City of Covington to commit crimes nowadays. Malcom referred to it as “dip and dart,” as in suspects dip into town, commit crimes and dart back out.
“It makes it more difficult to solve because there’s a larger pool of suspects,” Malcom said. “We don’t know them. We rely heavily on establishing relationships with neighboring law enforcement agencies so we can get the assistance we need to solve things.”
Bradford said one of the biggest changes he has seen within the department is the leadership style Cotton has brought on as chief. All of the members of the command staff were hired on by former CPD Chief Bobby Moody.
“Moody was a good leader, but he was a different type of leader,” he said. “Cotton has instilled in us that we’re here to serve and he fosters that type of leadership, of a servanthood type of leadership and that we are servants of our community.”
Bradford said the leadership style has caused an overall change in the department that creates a different interaction with the community as a whole.
“If you run into a police officer on the street, I think you would have seen something different that day, then if you run into a police officer on the street today,” he said. “And it’s all from the top down.”
Malcom said one of the biggest changes he’s seen is the professionalism within the department. Years ago, it was unheard of for a police officer to have a college degree and now a majority of the staff either has a degree or is working on one.
30 years to be proud of
In the last 30 years, CPD has received numerous awards and accreditations, but that is not what the department veterans hang their hats on. CPD prides itself on the community service and relationships it has continued to develop over the years.
“I am really proud of the fact that we’ve all worked together so long,” Treadwell said. “We’ve gotten along so well and fostered relationships.
“Without those relationships, it wouldn’t be so fluid.”
Malcom said he said he is always proud to be surrounded by a supportive group of people who constantly build each other up. While going through a personal tragedy, he said, his fellow CPD officers helped him keep it together.
“I’m forever loyal, grateful, indebted to them for what they did for me,” he said. “I’ll never forget it. I’ll take that to my grave.”
Not only does the department work to make sure its members are supported, but through the Covington Police Who Care, the community is also able to feel some of that support, Malcom said.
“I don’t think there’s a police department in the State of Georgia, maybe in the country that has done what we’ve done to try to help people in our community outside of just the normal police services that we provide, just taking it to a different level of services,” he said. “That’s the one thing, I think, when I walk away from it, when I look back that’s probably something I’m going to be very, very proud of.”
As a whole, Bradford said he is proud of who the CPD is.
“We are a respected agency because of who we are,” he said. “It makes you proud to say you’re a Covington Police Officer when you’re in Atlanta. People know us because of who we are, not because we boast or anything.”
He said the department’s strong relationships and focus on good policing and community service continue to grow the good reputation.
‘It seems like yesterday…’
“We talk about 30, 35 years, all this,” Bradford said. “It seems like yesterday we were all standing on the streets together, you know, slapping each other on the back, getting in a foot chase, laughing at somebody falling down.”
Each member of the CPD command staff had a different journey to the department. Whether it be following in their father’s footsteps, transferring from another department, a way to pay for college or something they’ve always wanted to do, being a police officer in the City of Covington was what they were meant to do.
After being hurt on the job with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) at 18 years old, Treadwell said his passion for law enforcement was ignited and he saw the CPD as a place he could have a long-term career.
Bradford’s father also worked as a police officer and he’s known it was something he was going to do since he was in the second grade. He applied for a position immediately after turning 18 and started working as a jailor.
Malcom grew up visiting his dad, who served as a justice of the peace, at his office and listening to the dispatch radios. Through that, he worked in dispatch and heard a majority of CPD calls before moving into a patrol position.
Cotton made his way into law enforcement as a way to pay for his college tuition. He was initially planning on following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a lawyer, but worked his way up within the department and found he had a knack for the business side of law enforcement.
Leaving a legacy
Cotton said in the next 30 years he hopes his mark can still be seen within the department.
“What we’re doing right now, we’re in the beginning stages of working to prepare the next generation of leaders within the department and kind of set the tone,” he said. “It may not be for the next 30 years, but at least maybe 15 to 20.”
He said a true sign of whether or not he’s done his job correctly will be whether or not the next police chief comes from inside the department or from another department.
“When a city usually goes outside they’re not happy with what they have. When they promote from within, they’re happy, they’re proud of what they have,” he said. “That’s what I want to see.”
Cotton said in the next seven to eight years, CPD will have an entirely new command staff and it is up to them now to set the tone for what’s to come.
“I’ve got officers that I’m hiring that weren’t alive when any of us started working,” he said. “We’ve got people out here that weren’t even born when we started working and that’s been kind of a culture shock for each one of us.”
He said he wants to know that there are leaders coming up through the ranks with the ability to fill each one of their shoes with the special skills they each carry.