As a man stalled for time with tired jokes at the podium inside, a white Ford Interceptor moved with authority down Emory Dawson Road and into the parking lot outside the Exchange Club of Brunswick at 12:39 p.m. Tuesday.
Glynn County’s new police chief stepped from the car, grabbed some papers out of the back seat and marched quickly into the building, 10 minutes late.
Jacques Battiste started his address to the room full of Exchange Club members by way of apology for tardiness.
“I just came down from Savannah,” Battiste said. “Today was my psych eval for POST and I drove straight here.”
The veteran FBI agent and New Orleans, La., law enforcement officer needed no elaboration on that point. Despite 22 years with the FBI and a recent stint with the Orleans Parish Constable’s Office, Battiste is not a Georgia state-certified law enforcement officer.
While that does not prevent him from supervising a department of more than 100 sworn officers, Battiste must obtain state law enforcement certification before he can make a traffic stop or slap cuffs on someone here.
This detail of his transfer from Louisiana to Georgia became a public issue for some when the county had to cancel his official swearing-in ceremony earlier this month.
The psychiatric evaluation procedure in Savannah was part of the state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) eight-week certification process that Battiste is undergoing.
“They poked and prodded me for two or three hours,” Battiste said. “I finally said, ‘Look, folks. I’ve gotta go. I’ve got some place to be.’”
The Glynn County Commission hired Battiste in June and his first day on the job was July 7. Three weeks later, Battiste told the Exchange Club he is eager to implement enhancements within a police department that he feels is already headed in the right direction.
“Instead of improvements, I use the word enhancements,” Battiste said. “When you enhance something, you’re working with something that is good already and making it better.”
However, it was just 18 months ago that the department appeared to be in turmoil. Then-chief John Powell was indicted in February 2020 on malfeasance charges related to an alleged coverup of wrongdoing by a department narcotics officer.
Powell maintains his innocence, but the county later fired him.
A police chief and an interim chief have headed the county police department before Battiste accepted the job.
“The department is in great hands and we’re moving forward,” Battiste said. “We’re really trying to regain your trust.”
Battiste served with the FBI for 22 years, working on everything from counter-terrorism to special events security. His first visit to the Golden Isles was during the George W. Bush presidency, when he served on a security detail for the G8 Summit of world leaders on Sea Island in 2004.
After careers and education in Washington and the New Orleans area, Battiste said Glynn County reminds him of his childhood home in neighboring South Carolina.
“When I first came down here for the G8 Summit, I fell in love with this place,” he said. “I grew up in South Carolina before going to New Orleans and this is so much like home.”
After retiring from the FBI, Battiste served as a campus police chief at his alma mater, Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Battiste, who also holds a law doctorate from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, La., was the police tactical and training coordinator in Orleans Parish until last month.
“Heck, I was serving as a police officer in Louisiana right up until I came here,” Battiste told The News as he stepped into the Exchange Club building.
Battiste said he is impressed by the commitment and professionalism of the officers within the county police department. He expects those officers to establish stronger relationships with the communities they patrol.
“We have to be more intelligent in how we deal with the public,” Battiste said. “We’re going to be reaching out more. More importantly, we’re going to be reaching out with community engagement. That is the key. Over the next couple of months, you’ll see more officers getting out of their cars and engaging with the community.”
He said the Golden Isles’ reputation as a small-town beachfront community could help recruit still more qualified officers who might be looking for an escape from metropolitan pressures.
“This is truly a wonderful community, it is a hidden jewel,” Battiste said. “A lot of officers are wanting that. They are looking to get away from the big cities.”
Battiste said he is establishing a good rapport with neighboring agencies, from the Brunswick Police Department to the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office.
One Exchange Club member asked Battiste what has surprised him most about the community he now serves.
“Coming from New Orleans, this is a School Zone for me compared to the Autobahn (Highway) I was on,” Battiste said. “The biggest surprise I’m finding here is that there are a lot more people willing to work with police and law enforcement. That’s been the biggest surprise... It’s finding people who are willing to work with us.”