If ever there was a law enforcement agency in need of emergency management, it was the Glynn County Police Department last February.
The police chief and much of his top brass had been indicted Feb. 27, 2020, on malfeasance charges. Those charges stemmed from alleged coverups of an undercover officer’s affair with an informant, an ethics breech that scandalized the police department and imploded the long-standing countywide narcotics enforcement squad. Chief John Powell was fired and is now awaiting trial.
Enter Glynn County native and veteran local public servant Jay Wiggins, who stepped down as director of the county Emergency Management Agency to take the lead reins of the police department on an interim basis on Feb. 28. The rest of 2020 saw earnest efforts made to improve officer morale as county commissioners heartily endorsed a move to make Police Chief Wiggins a permanent gig in late August.
On Thursday, Wiggins delivered a shocker to his police force and county officials. Wiggins announced his retirement, ending a more than three-decades public safety career that was spent entirely in the service of Glynn Countians. Wiggins submitted his letter of resignation to the county commission on Thursday morning, then broke it to the men and women of the county police department at 2 p.m. He will remain on through the end of January.
“I am honored to have held the position of Glynn County Chief of Police,” said Wiggins, 53. “But after 31 years in local public safety, I have decided to retire. I have truly enjoyed my career and have been given so many opportunities and made a lot of great friends.”
In his short tenure as the county’s top cop, Wiggins and his staff worked with a newly-formed Police Advisory Committee to improve the department’s ability to best serve the public. With input from the advisory committee, which includes former police chief Carl Alexander, the department has moved forward with several new initiatives under Wiggins short time in charge.
Foremost, the department ended the two-year practice of 12-hour shifts for patrol officers and returned to 10-hour shifts. It was a popular move among the rank-and-file.
The department also is receiving new tasers to replace badly outdated ones. In addition, the department has increased and upgraded its police body cameras and in-car cameras, a move Wiggins said would enhance officer accountability. And the force is working toward enhancing its K9 program in order to ensure a police pooch on every patrol shift.
The department also has stepped up its efforts toward achieving national accreditation. Additionally, the department started conducting training sessions with instructors at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center this year, Wiggins said.
The department also began holding monthly online virtual town hall meetings, a concession to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions.
“I feel the department is in a good place and that there are a lot of exceptional officers who will continue to make it a great, successful agency,” Wiggins said.
Glynn County Manager Alan Ours offering a glowing, grateful farewell to Wiggins.
“I thank Jay for his service during a tumultuous time in the Glynn County Police Department’s history,” Ours said. “During these 10 months, he and his staff were able to recruit 24 new officers, change to a 10-hour shift schedule, provide additional training for the officers, invest in new equipment such as in-car cameras, body cameras and tasers, and the policies of the department have been updated. Chief Wiggins continued to move the department towards community policing fundamentals by engaging with the public through virtual town halls and other innovative strategies during the pandemic. These changes help to bring more stability to the department and together will serve as a catalyst for improving public trust. Jay was the right person at the right time to steady the ship, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
In early December, Wiggins promoted veteran local law enforcement officer Rickey Evans from captain of administration to assistance police chief. Also a Glynn County native, Evans has served in virtually every division since joining the county police force in 2002, and he spent 15 years with the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office prior to that.
Wiggins said he has no specific avenues to pursue in retirement from his many years in public safety. However, he will continue his role as an adjunct professor teaching an emergency management course at College of Coastal Georgia.
“I have really enjoyed sharing my experiences with the students and will be able to devote more time to that,” Wiggins said.
Those experiences he plans to share are many, all local. After graduating from Brunswick High in the late 1980s, Wiggins joined the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office and worked a year at the county jail.
From there he spent three years on the Brunswick police force before moving on to the Glynn County Police Department in 1993. Wiggins served as a detective, training officer, patrol watch commander and the St. Simons Island precinct commander.
Along the way, Wiggins picked up an AA in criminal justice from the CCGA and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Troy University with a minor in psychology.
The county EMA was still affiliated with the county police department when Wiggins moved to that agency. He would eventually serve as EMA director for 10 years. This stint included preparations and follow-up responses when hurricanes inflicted countywide damage on consecutive years: Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Wiggins wanted to assure county officials, residents and members of the police department that his sudden departure was by no means an indication of dissatisfaction with his latest law enforcement role. Wiggins will remain on as chief through the end of January. He leaves earning an annual salary of $125,965.
“It has been an honor,” Wiggins said. “It’s had its ups and downs. I’ve seen the best of this county and I’ve seen the worst, and it’s still a community that I love. I hope that I’ve had some impact for good.
“The most amazing thing to me is that this community truly pulls together,” he added. “When something bad happens, people come from everywhere to help. When you’re serving a community like that, it is the best you can hope for.”