Friday, April 14, 2017

TOP STORY >> Herweg takes top job at JPD

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher swore in his new Police Chief Geoffrey Herweg on Friday at the department.

“I love new beginnings. I believe God is in control of our lives. I believe everything happens for a purpose and at a certain time. I think it is fitting that today is Good Friday and what it and Easter represent,” said Fletcher, calling him the best in the state.

He said, “Easter is about bringing hope in the desperate situations we all have. It is about us living a life of issues and being wrong with, the one of the most important relationship of our lives with, our God.”

“Good Friday was a day that was man’s darkest. He showed his worst. But the hope that came out at Easter, to me, is what it is all about,” the mayor said at the ceremony.

“Today, we have that same kind of hope, but in a different way with a new direction and leadership. We all like new beginnings in our lives,” Fletcher continued.

But some are concerned about the mayor giving Herweg a new “beginning” as the city’s police chief.

Alderman Tara Smith said Herweg’s criminal past – a Class B misdemeanor for filing a false police report – should bar him from the job.

“There wasn’t anyone equally qualified with a clean record?” Smith asked.

The NAACP has also sent a letter of concern to the mayor and aldermen.

Fletcher said there were several innuendoes made during the hiring process for the job, which had 31 people apply. The hiring committee, helping make the decision included Fletcher, Fire Chief Alan Laughy, human resources director Jill Ross and retired Police Chief Kenny Boyd. During the last two interviews, city director Jim Durham was brought in.

“During the interview process, everything is about chemistry. Out of all the interviews, Geoff stirred my heart. We kept interviewing. I’ve appointed four to five department directors since I’ve been mayor. I’ve picked the very best in the state. If you worked in my office and deal with these people on a daily basis, you know they are the best,” Fletcher said.

“I do not fill a position, I fill a need. I think great leaders make hard decisions. I did not run to be a politician. I ran to be a leader, a spiritual leader. Because every problem we deal with spiritually, manifests itself into physical things. We deal with surface problems, and that’s why we don’t solve problems. I think differently than most people and that’s the way I approach things,” he explained.

“I was looking for somebody I believe could do a great job. I chose a man and not a moment. I saw a person who was very strong and had a lot of confidence. He has a vision, direction and energy. I am proud of this department, and I expect great things,” Fletcher said.

According to police reports from Christmas Eve 2000, Herweg, off-duty, coming home from a party, ran into a garage door causing a total of $2,000 damage to the door and the vehicle inside the garage, then continued to drive, abandoning his vehicle in a ditch, then walked home.

He said the accident occurred because he fell a sleep. “I fell asleep hard and was in a fog for awhile,” Herweg explained.

As his fellow officers investigated the hit and run, Herweg initially said his vehicle had been stolen. Even though some, but not all, of the officers interviewing Herweg smelled alcohol, nowhere in the report does it say he was intoxicated.

Herweg resigned two days after the incident, and in a plea deal he agreed to plead guilty to the false report and voluntarily gave up his Texas law-enforcement license.

Texas is the only state where he can’t obtain a license to be a police officer.

Prior to that incident his personnel file shows numerous accolades, including, ironically, a 10-year safe driving award.

Just two months before the incident, in his yearly evaluation Chief Jeff Straub wrote that Herweg was a “superior employee and a leader whose leadership has caused much of this agency’s success and subsequent high level of morale and reputation.” The chief recommended him for “any advancement available.”

In an additional sheet of comments, the chief said Herweg had excellent job knowledge and was easy to work with. “He is without equal in this agency,” the chief wrote.

In 1999, Herweg’s supervisor, Sgt. Mark Clark, wrote that Herweg was “a good instructor and a people person.”

On the weaknesses said Clark said Herweg could “use a little more modesty.”

A year earlier his supervisor wrote that Herweg “displayed good leadership abilities. He is a self thinker and is creative.”

The most negative evaluation comment came after he had been on the job for just one month in 1995 his supervisor wrote that Herweg “doesn’t feel he could ever be wrong.”

At Friday’s public ceremony, Herweg said, “Thank you kindly for the support. Mr. Durham and the aldermen, without their support this would not have happened.”

“I’m not going down the negative road, just not today. I have not had a chance to meet with every department or had a department-wide meeting. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the captains, a fine group,” the chief.

“I’ve met with a few of the lieutenants. The vision of the department I whole heartedly support. We will go forward with the vision, mission and goals of this department. That is the direction we will head in the future. There are absolutely fine men and women in the Jacksonville Police Department. I look forward to meeting the rest of them in the next couple of days,” Herweg said.

Herweg’s badge was pinned on by his wife, Jeannie. Among those attending the ceremony were Aldermen Kenny Elliott, Reedie Ray and Terry Sansing.

(Staff writer Rick Kron contributed to this article.)