Glynn County's new police chief made his public debut in the Golden Isles on Monday evening, answering select questions from the public during a forum at the Brunswick-Glynn County Library.
Jacques S. Battiste was the Glynn County Commission's top choice after an extensive search among multiple candidates. The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police conducted the search with assistance from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
On Monday, the veteran of more than 20 years with the FBI asked the residents of Glynn County to give him the chance to prove he is the right person to lead their police department in the 21st century.
"For those of you who feel I do not have the qualifications, I ask that you give me the opportunity to show you that I can," Battiste said to the crowd of more than 50. "Let me show you that I can bring the enhancements necessary to create a model department for the state and for the country. I promise you I will bring my best game every day."
Battiste met earlier Monday in a closed session with commissioners and the Police Advisory Panel. His role as the new chief of police is not yet official, but County Commissioner David O'Quinn said he thinks Battiste will be a good fit.
"From what I've seen so far, I think he's the right choice," O'Quinn said after Battiste's presentation to the public.
After his tenure with the FBI ended in 2017, Battiste spent a year as campus police chief at his alma mater, Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Battiste's most recent post is as a tactical and training coordinator with Orleans Parish Constable's Office in New Orleans, where he has served since 2019.
Commissioners promised in advance of the police chief search that the public would have an opportunity to speak with and meet their choice before the candidate assumed command. However, questions were required to be submitted in writing by Monday morning via email to county spokesman Matthew Kent. The questions were screened and the selections were presented to Battiste by moderator Domenic McClinton of the Police Advisory Panel.
Some 20 questions were presented from more than 30 submitted, much of the reduction to avoid repetition, McClinton said.
The questions ranged from his thoughts on community policing and police transparency to attaining department accreditation and earning trust.
Battiste said he will expect his officers to treat the public they serve with respect and courtesy.
"We have to be able to serve beyond what the uniform dictates," Battiste said. "We have to be ambassadors for Glynn County. What was once referred to as community policing is now known as 'community engagement.' It requires an officer to be smarter than someone who carries a gun and a badge. We have to be problem solvers."
Battiste would be the fourth person to head the police department since February 2020. Hired as chief in 2018, John Powell was indicted by a Glynn County grand jury in 2020 on charges of malfeasance stemming from an alleged coverup of a narcotics investigator's affair with an informant. He was fired later that year.
Former Glynn County Emergency Management Agency Director Jay Wiggins was named interim police chief immediately after Powell's indictment and became full-time chief last October. Wiggins, however, resigned in January, later taking a job as head of security with Sea Island Resort.
Assistant County Police Chief Rickey Evans has served as interim chief since Wiggins' departure. Evans was among those who interviewed for the full-time position.
Battiste said he has known Evans since the two worked for their respective agencies during a meeting of world leaders on Sea Island in 2004.
"To remove him (as assistant police chief) would be my worst mistake," Battiste said of Evans, a county native and Brunswick High graduate. "He can help me overcome whatever obstacles there might have been here before."
In his 22 years with the FBI, from 1995 to 2017, Battiste worked everything from budget and compliance to international counterterrorism and domestic security. He served as a special agent with the FBI's Washington, D.C., field office and as a supervisory special agent at the FBI Academy in 2020. In that time, Battiste has learned to do everything from big city undercover operations to "making a nickel scream when I have to."
Battiste has a BA in Chemistry and a BA in political science from Xavier. He holds a juris doctorate from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, La.
He would be Glynn County's first full-time Black police chief. Interim chief Rickey Evans, a veteran of the department for nearly 20 years, also is Black.
Battiste said he hopes to diversify the police force to better meld with the community it serves. He hopes to see more engagement between officers and the community.
Battiste said he wants "the best educated officers in the country," officers who are able to diffuse escalating situations.
To achieve this, he hopes to focus on hiring and retention of good officers. He will not tolerate officers who do not treat the public with respect, he said.
"I will defend my officers as long as they are doing their job correctly," Battiste said. "If they deviate from that plan ... they are going to have to seek somewhere else. We want the very best. But when they come to this department, they better bring their A-game every day. If you're not ready to do that, I would rather you stay home and take a sick day."
Like many others across the country, Battiste said he has followed the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was shot to death in a Glynn County neighborhood in February 2020. It was not until Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents moved in that charges were filed in May against the three White men who now stand accused of murder in his death. Many felt county police and then Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson should have acted to press charges.
Battiste said the department will have to win back the community's trust.
"The proof was right there," Battiste said. "To take as long as it did, that was unacceptable. We are going to have to rebuild trust."
The meeting started with an angry elderly man demanding to ask a question from the floor, adding that he was unfamiliar with the digital technology required to submit a question by email. Moments after the meeting concluded, Battiste met with the elderly man in front of the speaker's table to conduct a one-on-one conversation.