Here’s the truth of it.
As the city police chief, Gina Hawkins never quite recovered from May 30, 2020, when she held back officers while an angry crowd converged downtown and eventually took out their anger on the historic Market House and surrounding businesses.
“I will say that some decisions made under the current administration are alarming,” says John Midgette, executive director of the N.C. Police Benevolent Association, “and not in keeping with professional law enforcement standards and the Rule of Law.”
Perhaps, in hindsight, Hawkins made the right call, particularly from the perspective of Mayor Mitch Colvin.
“Our police officers came home safe that night,” the mayor said at a Fayetteville NAACP candidates’ forum earlier this year when his opponent, Freddie de la Cruz, was critical of the police chief’s May 30, 2020, decision.
“We didn't have any police funerals to attend and nor did we have any citizens’ funerals to attend. But we did have 62 indictments to hold people accountable who acted outside the bounds of the law.”
And in fairness to the chief, Hawkins did dispatch officers to Cross Creek Mall when the crowds moved in protest of the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. And to North Fayetteville, too.
“Absolutely,” Midgette says about Hawkins’ decision on May 30, 2020, that he believes was suspect judgment. “You serve nobody’s interest when you ignore the law, especially when it comes to protecting lives and somebody’s property. That’s what we find alarming. To literally have officers stand down, it violates an officer’s oath. And you never measure success of a positive outcome by the fact nobody had a funeral. There were no officer deaths in Uvalde, either, but certainly, lives were lost. It ignores the problem.”
Criticism of Hawkins didn’t end with May 30, 2020.
There was community outcry about how the Fayetteville Police Department handled the Jan. 8 fatal shooting of Jason Walker by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy in west Fayetteville.
And although exonerated, she also was the subject of a city Ethics Commission inquiry after complaints were filed by a Wake County lawyer on behalf of officers within the Police Department.
Hawkins got off to a sound enough start on Aug. 18, 2017, as the police chief, Midgette says, but her leadership eventually began going south.
“I was impressed,” he says. “But once you make a bad decision and your officers lose faith, that’s a snowball rolling downhill. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
It’s all a moot point now.
Hawkins, 54, announced her retirement on July 15, effective Jan. 17.
On the city manager’s shoulders
The search for a new police chief is on, and the onus is on City Manager Doug Hewett, who hires the city’s top cop. Hewett has said he will be looking for a recruiting firm, talking with City Council members and the community.
“I want to make sure that we do this right,” Hewett told Michael Futch of CityViewTODAY, “and that it’s not something that’s rushed.”
The city manager will get no argument from Midgette.
“Fayetteville is one of many cities that made very poor decisions in attempting to address a false narrative that has run off record numbers of good police officers that are not coming back,” he says. “A new police chief that would incorporate this strategy into the narrative might actually get somewhere in reducing crime, retaining quality officers and improving law enforcement services that all citizens deserve.”
Midgette is no Johnny-come-lately to law enforcement. He was a police officer for the Raleigh Police Department for 15 years before becoming executive director of the Police Benevolent Association in 1989. He was a cop’s cop and has three sons who are police officers. And Midgette knows the importance of a city having the right man or woman to lead a police department.
“We believe the critical issue for Fayetteville now is the way city leaders move forward in selecting the next police chief,” he says. “Most city leaders don't even go into the communities in criminal distress and yet rarely seek input from the community's crime victims and the actual officers who protect them and who are in these communities every day.”
Midgette says he believes Hewett is on the right path to include police officers and residents in pursuit of a police chief. And he says the N.C. Police Benevolent Association is available to offer its expertise, just as it recently assisted with the hiring of a new police chief in Cary.
“Cary resisted for years,” he says. “But it just found a fantastic chief. I’ve never seen the morale better. It’s galvanizing trust with the community.”
The association, he says, has been informally involved in the past with assisting police departments in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, too.
Hewett is carrying a weight on his shoulders in pursuing the city’s next police chief. He well could follow the lead of Ted Voorhees, the former city manager who hired Harold Medlock in 2013 out of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. If there was a homicide in this city, Medlock was there. He was one of the better police chiefs this city has known. He didn’t just take homicides professionally; he took homicides personally.
“We have to stop people from shooting each other,” he said on Jan. 9, 2013. “I think that when we have people that are seriously injuring other folks with guns or other weapons we have to deal with that, and then the causes of those crimes are going to start to impact some of the other things” to include home and automobile invasions and property crimes.
Voorhees took crime just as seriously. You commit crimes in this city, he said, and we’ll not tolerate it.
Midgette didn’t call me. I called him. I know his professionalism and his work with the association and his passion for addressing police issues. He says Hewett hasn’t reached out to the association for assistance.
But he and the association are willing.
“It’s not for us to say who will be hired,” Midgette says. “That’s the city manager’s job. We don’t want to be the solution, but happy to be a part of the solution.”
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.