From driver’s license examiner to police chief, Fiveash has worked his way up law enforcement ranks

Published 6:48 pm Friday, April 28, 2023

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LaGrange’s new police chief Garrett Fiveash has a lot of work ahead of him, but the veteran lawman is ready for the challenge. 

Fiveash has taken the helm of the LaGrange Police Department during turbulent times. Entering in the wake of the Banning Mills scandal and in the midst of an ongoing youth violence crisis, the new chief looks to use his experience to right the ship while learning the ropes of LaGrange.

Fiveash said he began his career in law enforcement with the Georgia State Patrol in 1994 as a driver’s license examiner.

“I issued driver’s licenses for almost three years before going to school. I went through trooper school in 1997 and started my career as a trooper. During that time, I’ve worked a little bit all over the state,” Fiveash said. 

Most of the chief’s time moving around was with GSP’s training division helping train troopers around the state.

Fiveash said over his three decades of service he progressed up the ranks at GSP before retiring as captain in July of last year. He said his experience supervising and training others helped him for the position of chief.

“I got my first supervisory position with the Georgia State Patrol in 2001, so I’ve been supervising and managing people since then but mainly my time spent in the training division helped,” Fiveash said. 

“We had about 1,200 sworn officers all total, so working with that many people and that many different personalities and many personal issues and all the things that individual personalities bring to the table just helped me to learn how to manage people a little bit better and figure out what their wants and needs and desires are and what makes them a more effective worker each and every day,” he said.

Addressing Youth Violence

Fiveash said he has spoken with Mayor Willie Edmondson and plans to meet with others to develop plans to reduce the teen violence that is currently plaguing LaGrange.

He said he plans to speak with Bruce Griggs about his Saving our Sons program so that they can address the problem before it really becomes a problem.  

“[Griggs’] approach also is one I’m very interested in hearing because they work not only with the children but also with the parents. The reality of it is, we can educate the child all day and give them all of the input and positivity that we possibly can, but if they go back home to an environment where that’s not supported, then they’re unlearning what we’ve been trying to teach them.”

Fiveash said he and Edmondson have also spoken about potentially doing a gun buyback program. He said they’re in preliminary discussions because they would need to establish a price point or some compensation for turning over the firearm to get it off the street.

The new chief said he is uncertain if imposing a curfew on teens — another idea discussed —  would help reduce teen violence because violence can occur any time of the day.

“Again, it goes back to parents. We’ve got to get parents involved,” Fiveash said. “We’ve got to have some buy-in from the parents to want to keep their kids in a safe place and not allow them to be in areas they don’t need to be, particularly late at night.”

“I’ve said it before. I wish we had 1,000 police officers, and we could be everywhere. That’d be fantastic. But we can’t be,” he said.

Fiveash said he has also seen the problem that gangs are having on our youth.

“We’ve seen the influx of that in Atlanta already,” Fiveash noted from his time at GSP. ”We were chasing stolen cars all the time and then when we would catch the person driving the car, they’re 13, 14 or 15 years old. The gangs recruit those kids because they know they’re minors. They know that more than likely the system doesn’t have time to charge them or probably not going to charge them. Many times, they are releasing them unless it’s something violent in addition to the theft, and they’re going to release them back to their parents. That’s why they recruited them.”

Community Policing

Fiveash said community policing is just regular policing done right.

“When we talk about community policing, that’s a positive thing, but in reality, community policing is just policing,” he said. “If you’re doing a good job as a police officer, you should know the people in your community, you should already be reaching out to them and making those contacts. So that even if you have to go somewhere, and it’s not a really positive interaction, at least that’s a familiar face.”

In response to recent calls for increased law enforcement to help curb youth violence, Fiveash had a similar comment saying enforcement should have been happening already.

“It shouldn’t be increased enforcement action. We should have been taking enforcement action the whole time,” Fiveash said.

“We’re coming off and still in some ways in the aftermath of COVID, where we were limited contact with the public and weren’t taking people to jail for the more minor offenses. Maybe we should have been taking them to jail because of a lot of reasons,” he said.

Fiveash said he understands how and why COVID impacting policing, but now that things are getting back to normal after the pandemic, law enforcement needs to get back to normal too.

“It’s kind of time to get back to business and getting paid to do what we should have been doing the whole time,” Fiveash said.

Banning Mills

Fiveash said he is still in the process of having one-on-one conversations about his expectations of his supervisors. However, he said it’s important they know that everyone in the community knows they’re a police officer.

“No matter if you’re working or off, or you’re at the State House or the hardware store, it makes no difference and you have to act accordingly,” Fiveash said.

“I’m not against relaxing and not against having a good time with friends, but there’s a way and a means and manner to handle yourself and handle your business and to not let things get out of control,” he said. 

“It was extra bad, for lack of a better word, with the Banning Mills incident because it was paid for by the city. In my eyes and I think the public’s eyes, it was a city-sponsored and city-sanctioned event. You can say it was off duty, if you want to, but it’s from public perception, the city is paying for that to happen.”

Fiveash said in the future if there is something of that magnitude or as widespread as the Banning incidents, then he has no reservations in calling in outside investigators.

Fiveash was asked if he had been chief, whether he thought the punishment that the officers received was appropriate.

“Having not looked at the entire file, I haven’t read the investigation. Mainly the only things I know about investigation are word of mouth and like everybody else, I watched some of the videos that had been posted. I can say based on purely on what I know, I think the punishment would have been more stringent than what it was, but again, not having all the facts and circumstances,” Fiveash said.

The chief at home

“I used to fish and hunt. When I started in the training division with the State Patrol, I was gone so much. It was very time-intensive running trooper schools,” Fiveash said, noting the 32-week course took a lot of his time.

Fiveash said he has since been playing Xbox because it’s something he can do at home, which keeps his family happy.

“It’s fun to me. Everybody knows where I’m at and then I can still spend time with my wife and my daughter. I’m kind of a homebody. We like to go to the beach and take a yearly vacation like everybody else, but we really enjoy just hanging around the house,” Fiveash said. 

Fiveash said he plans to move his family from Macon to LaGrange as soon as they can.