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Atlanta officer to become Morrow’s top cop

Christopher Leighty

Christopher Leighty

A high-ranking official in the Atlanta Police Department is set to take his oath as Morrow’s new police chief on Tuesday evening, Morrow officials have disclosed.

Atlanta Police Maj. Christopher A. Leighty is scheduled to be sworn in to his new position by Morrow Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke at the beginning of the town’s City Council meeting, which is set to begin Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., according to a copy of the meeting agenda. The meeting will take place at Morrow City Hall, which is located at 1500 Morrow Road.

Leighty, a former U.S. Marine, comes to the Morrow Police Department after serving in the Atlanta Police Department for approximately 22 years. His most recent post in the department was as the commander of its Zone 5 Precinct, which includes Atlanta’s midtown area.

“He was the best interview [of three finalists for the job], he had the best resume, he had the best experience, and he was the best fit for the City of Morrow,” said Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady.

The city council chose to accept a recommendation from Eady, to offer the job to Leighty, during a called meeting held March 3, to interview three finalists for the job, according to the city manager. The other finalists for the police chief position were former Lithonia Police Chief Kennis Harrell, and Newton County Sheriff’s 1st Lt. Mark Mitchell.

Although Leighty is scheduled to be sworn in on Tuesday, Eady said the new chief is not expected to officially begin his duties with the department until April 9. “We’re going ahead and swearing him in now because the next city council meeting isn’t set to take place until after [April 9],” the city manager said.

Eady added the new police chief will be paid an annual salary of approximately $90,000.

The incoming police chief could not be reached Monday for comment.

Leighty’s swearing in should bring some sense of closure to a long process that began in November, when former Morrow Police Chief Jeff Baker was arrested by Clayton County police on a DUI charge a after he was found asleep in the middle of Ga. Hwy. 54, in his city-owned vehicle. Baker resigned from his post in the department approximately a week later.

He pleaded guilty to the DUI charge, and to a running a red light charge, in February. The former chief’s arrest, and guilty plea is an issue some city leaders would like to see left in the past.

“It’s time to move on,” said Burke. “I don’t like to dwell on the past, and I think that once you make a decision on who is going to lead the department, the city needs to go forward and deal with other pressing matters.”

Morrow Police Capt. Greg Tatroe, who had applied for the chief position, has led the department — on an interim basis — since Baker’s arrest.

The new police chief has overseen the Atlanta Police Department’s Zone 5 Precinct since May 2011. Prior to that, he 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 1990’s.

He spent 10 years in the U.S. Marines before joining Atlanta’s police force in 1990. While he was in the Marines, he served in Beirut, Lebanon, and in Operation Desert Shield, and Desert Storm, in Iraq and Kuwait, according to his police biography. He reached the rank of gunnery sergeant.

His resume shows he graduated Summa cum Laude with an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Georgia Military College, in 2000; Summa cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Mercer University, in 2004, and Summa cum Laude with a master’s degree in public administration and justice administration from Columbus State University, in 2007.

He also graduated from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Huntsville, Ala.-based Hazardous Devices School in 1996, and the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College in 2007.

Burke and Eady said his resume, and the detailed way he answered each question during his interview with the city council, is what led council members to choose him as the new chief. The city manager called the hire a “slam dunk,” while the mayor said he and the council picked up “a good vibe” from Leighty during the interview.

“The council chose him because he is the most qualified candidate that we interviewed for the position,” Burke said. “It was just his years of experience that stood out for us. When we interviewed him, he just came across as a really good people person, which is good because that means he will be able to connect easily with our residents.”