Education and training
The department returned its focus to education and skills training, once Simons arrived. Good training is what keeps you out of litigation, Simons says.
“I've found that the majority of conflicts are a result of poor communication,” says Simons. “When you’re recruiting officers, you want the people who have the widest scope of knowledge possible so that he or she can understand the issues they may face. And if you're dealing with someone from a culture unfamiliar to you, then you're not fully equipped to help that person solve their problems.”
Simons recalls a story in which a foreign-born citizen stopped by the Perry police department to complain about officers who had barged into the man’s house the previous morning, wrestled the man into submission and cut off a hallmark of his gender. After determining that the man did not mean this literally, Simons says he realized the man was trying to say that officers had emasculated him when they arrested the man for battering his wife.
“We've tried to provide our guys with the best training and equipment to do their jobs,” says Simons. “Over half of getting the job done is having the right tool or knowing what the right course of action is. It really helps to have law enforcement officers who understand that everyone that didn’t grow up like them,” said Simons. “There are places in this city where, if I’d grown up there, my mentality may be different. Who knows, I might have become a thug.”
Ethics and policy
In 1999, Simons’ promise to Hanson was realized and the Valdosta Police Department received accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. Simons and his staff had re-codified VPD policies and received affirmation from the CALEA that the department was on the right track.
“The accreditation isn't something that we just put on paper and posters, it's something that we live by,” says Simons. “Our guys have policy books in their desks and cars, so they don't have to wonder about any of our guidelines. The majority of our guys try hard to adhere to the rules. We’ve only haven’t had to discipline many officers over the years, because most dread a written reprimand.”
Ethics go hand and hand with VPD policy, says Simons. He says he has worked hard to eradicate the use of epitaphs and slurs, among many other elements of grooming ethical and professional representatives of the law.
“We needed a work force that understood the people they'd be working with,” Simons says. “If you can rationalize calling someone else something that classifies as non or sub-human, then you can justify mistreating that person. We expect you to extend that same level of courtesy to everyone from the bank managers and city leaders down to the town's stinkiest drunks.”
The department faces re-evaluation for accreditation each year, says Simons. And each of the last three times the department has gone through the CALEA evaluations, Simons says the department has passed with honors and has received a status of “distinguished accreditation.”
Simons’ philosophies helped restore the public’s faith in the city’s police department. But he concedes that his successes may not have been so if not for the support of the citizens and city leaders who share his vision of a safer Valdosta.
“I don't know of a police chief that has had a better relationship with his or her elected officials and city manager than I have. In the 17 and a half years that I've been here, I've never had an elected official attempt to interfere in any of our cases. Everyone can't say that.”
Simons says he has no plans of participating in the search for his successor, but says he’s willing to help if the city asks. When asked what he’ll do with the weeks that stand between him and retirement, Simons referred back to his first press conference years ago where The Times’ now-assistant editor, Dean Poling, queried the new chief on his first month’s plans.
“Larry Hanson was there and we were still getting to know each other,” says Simons. “So I told Dean the first thing I had planned to do would be locate all of the first floor bathrooms. So what am I going to do as I leave, you ask? I guess I could make sure they're all flushed and cleaned now.”
Simons says retirement will afford him more time to spend with Cathy, who he says retired in 2004. He says her longings for more time together played a role in his retirement decision to some degree, but reasons that it’s simply time.
“The city of Valdosta has been very good to me,” says Simons. “I think what citizens want to know is that you're committed to doing the right thing and responding. I tell people all the time that if you're in a job where you're tasked with making the final decision, the best you can hope for is that people will believe you were fair in your actions.”