SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. — Jeff Fuesting has been, to some degree or another, involved in law enforcement his entire life.
He grew up in Effingham, Illinois, as the son of a cop. His brother works for the Covington Police Department. He joined the St. Louis Metro Police Department in 1994, when he was 21 years old.
He’s been at it ever since, rising through the ranks of the St. Louis department before coming back to his hometown to be chief of police there in 2017.
“I love every day of the job. Every day is a new challenge. I still feel like every day is the first day out of the academy,” Fuesting said.
“Someday I’ll stop doing this, but right now I just don’t know if I will. I still feel young inside, and I just love working with the community.”
As of Oct. 7, he’s Social Circle’s new chief of police. He succeeds Tyrone Oliver, who became the Commissioner of the Georgia Juvenile Justice Department in July.
He may be from halfway across the country, but he’s not a stranger to Social Circle. Not only does his brother work in Covington, but his mother has lived in Newton County for more than 30 years.
“We always visit here and love the small-town atmosphere. Everyone was always so welcoming every time we were here,” Fuesting said.
Social Circle, however, is much different from where he started his career, patrolling the streets of St. Louis.
“It was an eye-opener. Twenty-one years old and I went from one culture to another culture overnight, working in the most violent neighborhood in St. Louis, coming from a small town with very low crime,” he said.
“I learned working those neighborhoods working as a policeman how tough growing up places like that really was. The opportunities for them were not the same as different places, as where I grew up.”
He worked his way up over two decades with the department. In 2011, he took on the biggest challenge of his career.
The town of Jennings, Missouri, which is just northeast from St. Louis, disbanded its police department after local officials decided it wasn’t functioning. Leaders there decided to contract with St. Louis to provide police services.
Fuesting was hired to be the commander in the area.
“That town had a lot of things going on. … Violent crime was high. There was a disconnect between the police and the community. We needed to bring in our resources to tamp down that violent crime and to bring in our community policing philosophy of our department. And we did that.”
Under Fuesting’s watch, violent crime dropped 30% and trust was built between the community and police over the five years he served there.
“They still have some challenges, but for the most part it’s a great community. It was probably one of the greatest assignments in my career.”
In 2017, he went back home to run Effingham’s police department. He was there two years, and he rolled out a number of changes, like a teen leadership academy, being involved in more events, bank robbery prevention programs, took over the school resource officer program, started proactive patrols, and created a community policing officer position.
His night officers, when they patrolled a neighborhood or a business, would leave cards on the windshield or on the doorstep, telling people they’d been there and everything was secure.
But after two years, a new administration and city council won elections. The new mayor was the former police chief, and Fuesting was forced out.
“He had the authority to pick his team, and he did so. And that’s ok. … As a professional, you have to accept that. I have nothing bad to say about the city of Effingham, “ Fuesting said.
So now he’s here, in Walton County, bringing his experience and knowledge to bear on Social Circle.
“For me, my message has always been the same. It’s community policing. We’re in this together. Let’s work with our community. Let’s get out of our cars. Let’s be seen in the neighborhoods. … I’m not going to change in that aspect. And I think they have that here.”
It’s the early days, but Fuesting said he already has plans for a few things. He wants to walk around neighborhoods and meet people, as well as start a teen leadership academy. Beyond that, it’s just meeting all the other officials and forming relationships there.
“I’m excited to plant roots in this community and work with the men and women here,” he said.