Photo by Curt Yeomans
Incoming Morrow Police chief Christopher Leighty (center) was introduced to the city’s residents Tuesday night when he was sworn into his new position. He comes to Morrow after 22 years in the Atlanta Police Department.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell remembers when Morrow’s new Police Chief, Christopher Leighty, was just a new law enforcement officer in Atlanta who felt more comfortable whenever he could get away from the office.
Bell — who was Atlanta’s police chief when Leighty was hired by that department in 1990 — recalled that the young officer was eager to be out patrolling the streets, and intermingling with the people he was sworn to protect.
“He is very community-oriented,” he said. “He cares a great deal about his duty to the public.”
It has been 22 years since Leighty, who will officially take over Morrow’s police department on April 9, was that young cop who patrolled the streets of Atlanta. He has risen through the ranks of that police department, until he became a major who served as the commander of Atlanta’s Zone 5 precinct, in the heart of the city.
He’s 51 now, but that young cop’s desire to focus on the community is still there.
“Everybody talks about community-oriented policing, and what it means, but I’ll tell you what it means for a chief — it is a partnership,” Leighty said after he was sworn in to his new position on Tuesday. “It is open communication, and it is a friendship between the police department, and all parts of city government and agencies. We all, together, can overcome all problems.”
But, as the newly minted police chief in Morrow, he has a new community with whom he must build a relationship. So, the question is, “Who is Christopher Leighty?”
Family is important to Leighty
Christopher Leighty did not go alone into his interview with the Morrow City Council at the beginning of the month. His grandfather, who adopted him when he was a young boy, went into that meeting with him — in a way. The new chief explained that he carried a photograph of himself and his grandfather — taken right after Leighty finished the U.S. Marines boot camp in 1979 — into the interview.
That same photograph was tucked inside Leighty’s childhood Bible, upon which he was sworn in as Morrow’s police chief, on Tuesday. “I wanted him with me when I was sworn in,” the new chief said.
Those who have known Leighty say family is as important to him as duty is. During his swearing in ceremony, he was joined by several members of his family, and he told audience members that his daughter was his biggest hero.
Of course, one small, seemingly minuscule sign of where family ranks with Leighty may just be which college teams he roots for.
He said he was a big fan of Ohio State University when he was growing up in Southpoint, Ohio — and he remains a fan of the Buckeyes to this day. But, he added that his wife, Susan — whom he calls a “Georgia Peach” — is a native of small east Georgia town of Washington, and a graduate of the University of Georgia. So, as a result, he has adopted the Bulldogs as a second favorite college team.
“She’s a big Georgia fan ... so I root for the ‘Dawgs,’ ” he said.
Although Leighty and his family live in Covington, he said he would be open to moving to Morrow at some point. He said the major issue, right now, is the current housing market, which has made it difficult for many people to sell their homes at this time.
A ‘hard-working’ officer in Atlanta
Leighty is one of at least six law enforcement officers who worked under Bell in Atlanta, and has gone on to become a police chief in his own right.
And he’s not alone in Clayton County, either, as he’s at least the third member of that small group to become a city police chief in this county. The others, according to Bell, were former Riverdale Police chief Thetus Knox, and current Riverdale Chief Samuel Patterson. Bell said he’s pleased to see any of his former officers become a police chief, but he especially felt Morrow’s choice to hire Leighty was an “excellent” one.
“He’s one of the good ones,” the ex-Atlanta police chief said. “I would consider him one of our top [law enforcement] officers.”
Bell said the soon-to-be Morrow police chief worked in his office, as a young police recruit at the Atlanta Police Department. Bell said one of the ways he would train new officers would be to pair them with experienced employees in the department.
Leighty was paired with a civilian employee named Roberta Brecher, who worked closely at Bell’s side. “He was a very hard-working officer,” the commission chairman recalled on Friday. “He was selected to the SWAT team because of that.”
It was what Leighty did during his career with Atlanta — after spending 10 years in the U.S. Marines — as well the experience he amassed, that Morrow officials cited earlier this week for choosing him.
He served on Atlanta’s SWAT team, narcotics unit, vice squad, violent crime impact team, Red Dog Unit, bomb squad and the financial investigations squad. He graduated from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hazardous Devices School, and Georgia Law Enforcement Command College.
Current Atlanta Police Chief George Turner appointed Leighty to be the commander of the department’s Zone 5 Precinct, in the heart of the city, in May 2011. “I enjoyed my time in Atlanta,” Leighty said. “I learned a lot from Chief Turner. He’s been truly a great example for me to follow.”
Turner could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Bell said the fact that Leighty was eventually chosen to be Zone 5 commander speaks volumes about his experience, and ability to deal with diverse situations. The former police chief said Zone 5 is “the most complex district” in Atlanta because it covers a diverse cross section of communities.
“It represents the highest economic generators in downtown,” Bell said. “You have Auburn Avenue, which was the heart of the African-American community, down there. You also have Midtown, which is one of the fastest-growing areas in the city. Then you go all the way over to the Georgia Dome, and Vine City, and then you go south, and you have public housing.
“So, a commander had to be very well-versed, and diverse, in how they dealt with all of these groups. You could not give Zone 5 to a commander who did not have a wide range of experience and training on how to handle a very complex area.”
His plans for Morrow Police
Leighty said he is still getting acquainted with his new department, so he is still figuring out the challenges that he will face as Morrow’s police chief. He explained he is brushing up on the department’s budget, and learning what financial obstacles will lie in his path.
But, at the same time, he said the continued education of his new police officers is a key task he wants to take up as Morrow’s new police chief. That begins, of course, with Morrow Police Capt. Greg Tatroe, who the city is sending to the FBI National Academy. Tatroe is being sent to the academy as thanks for stepping in as the department’s interim chief after its last permanent chief resigned after being arrested for DUI.
The city council has pledged to foot the bill for sending Tatroe to the academy, and Leighty is using connections he has with the FBI to get it set up.
The new chief said he wants to see all of the department’s commanders follow in Tatroe’s footsteps, and eventually attend the academy.
“Going forward, one of the big things that I would like to see us continue is the education of our police department,” Leighty said. “I don’t think there is any better way of utilizing seized drug funds than to educate and train your people.”