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Morrow names finalists in police chief search

Morrow officials confirmed Wednesday that Lithonia’s former police chief; a top-ranking official in the Atlanta Police Department, and the spokesman for the Newton County Sheriff’s Office are the only people left in the running for the city’s police chief position.

Resumes released by Morrow show that former Lithonia Police Chief Kennis Harrell, Atlanta Police Maj. Christopher Leighty, and Newton County Sheriff’s 1st Lt. Mark Mitchell are the people who a city review panel picked as finalists for the position, out of 38 applicants.

Their resumes have been forwarded to Morrow’s city council, which is set to interview the candidates this weekend, according to Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke.

“If either I, or a member of the council, decide we don’t like the group of candidates that have been brought to us, we could ask them [the review panel] to bring us the next three candidates that scored high,” Burke said. “I’m hoping we get this done quickly. We’ve got other issues in the city that we need to deal with. We don’t need to be sitting around each week, trying to decide who our next police chief is going to be.”

The council is scheduled to conduct the interviews during an executive session, at a special called meeting, beginning at 8:30 a.m., at Morrow City Hall, which is located at 1500 Morrow Road. Burke said the executive session is expected to last until approximately noon.

Although city officials are looking to get a new police chief in place sooner rather than later, Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said a formal job offer to any candidate is still “a few weeks away.” He said the final candidate must undergo background and psychological checks before a formal job offer can be made. He also said the city has to allow time for the final candidate to notify his current employer of his plans to take the job.

“I know we would want them to do that if they were one of our employees,” Eady said.

The person selected will be the permanent replacement for former Police Chief Jeff Baker, who resigned Dec. 1, after he was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence. Morrow Police Capt. Greg Tatroe — who was himself an applicant to permanently replace Baker — has been serving as the city’s interim police chief since the former chief stepped down.

Eady said he was joined on the city’s review panel by former Morrow police chiefs Lou Deckmar and Kenny Smith, as well as Georgia State University Police Chief Connie Sampson. The city manager added that he was pleased with the three finalists.

Harrell, Leighty and Mitchell have a combined 67 years of experience in law enforcement. Each has a master’s degree, and has served in various management positions with other law enforcement departments. “They’re good candidates,” Eady said. “Any one of them would make a good police chief.”

Harrell was Lithonia’s police chief, from November 2010, to this past December. He spent more than 24 years with the DeKalb County Police Department before that, however. He started with DeKalb in 1986, as a police officer, and worked his way up the ranks, to a homicide and burglary detective, then to a police academy instructor.

He has also served as the commander of the DeKalb County Police Department’s community outreach section, the assistant commander of its criminal investigation division, assistant commander of the department’s north precinct, a precinct commander, a field operations bureau District 2 commander, an assistant chief of police, and a deputy chief of police.

Leighty has been the commander of the Atlanta Police Department’s Zone 5 Precinct, which includes Atlanta’s downtown and midtown areas, since May 2011. He has served as a member of Atlanta’s special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team, crime suppression unit and bomb squad. He was also once the commander of Atlanta’s special enforcement section, which included the department’s gang unit, narcotics unit, homeland security unit, vice squad, violent crime impact team, and financial investigations squad.

His biography, on the Atlanta Police Department’s web site, shows he also was once a member of the department’s controversial Red Dog Unit, in the late 1990s. He also spent 10 years in the U.S. Marines before joining Atlanta’s police force in 1990.

Mitchell is currently the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division for the Newton County Sheriff’s Office. He serves as the office’s public information officer, SWAT team commander and Honor Guard commander. He also oversees the office’s patrol, crime scene, fugitive agent, crime suppression and Internet crimes against children units, and he coordinates the office’s digital 800 radio system.

He previously was the executive officer of the uniform division, and manager and instructor for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. He has also overseen the Newton County Sheriff’s Office’s school resource, K-9, traffic, CHAMPS and civil process units.