Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams said Thursday night that he and Police Chief Scott Freeman mutually agreed to part ways over simmering concerns about morale and attrition within the police department.
“This has been coming for some time,” Williams told Flagpole, adding that “this is a conversation that’s been happening the past five or six months.
“Real or perceived, there’s been an erosion in confidence in the chief,” Williams said. “The chief has done a lot of great things, but I’ve got to bring some stability to the department… At the end of the day, the chief and I agreed mutually this [Freeman departing immediately] was in the best interests of the department.”
It’s not entirely Freeman’s fault that ACCPD has been having trouble recruiting and retaining officers, because that’s a nationwide issue, Williams said, and there was no one incident that led to the decision that he resign.
“I’ve done a lot of listening,” said Williams, who has the power to hire and fire all county department heads. “This is not a handful of disgruntled officers. This is a management issue that I have to deal with.”
Despite being in the works for some time, the move came as a surprise to many, including Commissioner Melissa Link.
“I’m shocked,” Link said. “As an elected official, I feel like I should have been kept in the loop that this was happening. My constituents are shocked, too.”
Internal management issues aside, Williams said he was happy with Freeman’s policy direction of emphasizing community policing, and he wants a permanent replacement who will continue that work.
“There are a lot of good things Chief Freeman brought to the community,” such as improved transparency, Williams said.
In the meantime, he appointed Capt. Mike Hunsinger as interim chief. Hunsinger is a 30-year veteran of the ACC police force and a graduate of the FBI academy. Williams said that he, as an outsider—he was hired away from Floyd County in 2014—felt that Hunsinger can bring stability to the department.
Freeman has not returned a call seeking comment.
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