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OUR OPINION: Public feedback important for HPD under new leadership

There’s been a lot written over the last few years about the relationship between police departments and the communities that they help protect.

While we think larger political narratives often find their way into our community, we’ve always felt like all of our local police departments have made sure to get out and about and meet the people who live in the area they work. Whether that’s through National Night Out events, which all four law enforcement departments take part in, or Easter egg hunts (usually a Hogansville Police Department staple), or just getting into the schools (a regular for TCSO.)

Building trust is important, as is listening, especially when there is new leadership in place.

The Hogansville Police Department has undergone more change than any of our local law enforcement agencies over the last year after a third-party investigation into the department that ended in November.

The chief at that time, Brian Harr, retired, another officer resigned and a third was fired, per information released at that time. Officers were accused of sexual misconduct and falsifying records at that time.

It’s the sort of thing that will create mistrust in a community. People don’t like to hear about their police officers wasting time and breaking the law while on taxpayer’s dime. When it happens — and it becomes public — it’s viewed as big news, as we expect our police officers to uphold the highest standards of the law.

It also makes life more difficult for good police officers, who actually do their jobs, and shouldn’t be viewed in a bad light just because a co-worker didn’t do the job he was paid to do.

Jeff Sheppard was named the interim HPD police chief in November and had the interim tag removed earlier this year, and he’s already working to lend a listening ear to the community.

Sheppard held a public forum recently where community members could discuss anything they wanted with the HPD. While the turnout was low, the meeting had good intentions and is very important to create trust in a community. We hope others will follow.

Sheppard is a good guy who has always done a good job for HPD. He was “heads and tails” above other candidates for the job, which isn’t hard to believe because of his experience in the area.

Last year’s changes in the police department were concerning, and we’re glad the city of Hogansville handled the investigation the way it did.

Now, in its next chapter, Sheppard is already doing things to get feedback from the community — a trend that should continue. It’s important for all police departments to hold these types of events, but we think it means a little more in Hogansville after the fallout from last year’s investigation.