Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins announced Friday afternoon that she will be retiring effective in January 2023, a police spokesman confirmed.
Hawkins and City Manager Doug Hewett were not immediately available for comment. Hawkins has served as Fayetteville’s first minority and female police chief without the word interim before the title for the last five years.
She has faced both praise and criticism since coming to Fayetteville from Jonesboro, Georgia, where she had spent four years as the deputy police chief for Clayton County.
It is not yet known why Hawkins wants to retire. She came under fire earlier this year when officers filed 13 complaints against her with the city’s Ethics Commission. The commission, which agreed to hear eight of the complaints, dismissed all of those after hearing witness testimony over the course of three nights.
Hawkins has been heavily criticized, including by some in her own department, for ordering police to stand down when protesters downtown turned violent and tried to burn down the Market House on May 30, 2020, following the death of George Floyd.
An independent review of her handling of the situation by an organization called the Performance Evaluation Review Forum – or PERF – found that Hawkins’ order may have saved lives and lessened property damage but that she didn’t communicate her decision well with the rank and file.
“Interviews with FPD personnel found that the decisions made by department leaders on May 30 (specifically, the stand-down order) and the reasoning behind the decisions were not communicated well — with officers, supervisors, and the community,” the report said.
The report also said morale could be “greatly improved” by better communication and pointed out that officers – including high-ranking ones – had been leaving the department in numbers exceeding national averages.
Violent crime in the city – including homicides – continues to escalate.
Mayor Colvin says he’s enjoyed working with Hawkins
Mayor Mitch Colvin said he respects Hawkins and the job she has done, but added that her retirement doesn’t come as a complete surprise.
He said he had just learned Friday evening that Hawkins intends to retire, after receiving a text message sent to him and City Council members from Hewett. Colvin said he had not spoken personally to Hawkins about her announcement.
“You know, when I came on as mayor, she was coming into the community as chief and of course we've had to work together to address the public safety policies in the city. So I appreciate her time and her service to the community. You know, I wish her well in her next endeavor.”
Asked if he was glad she is retiring, Colvin said, “I appreciate her for the work she's done and wish her well whatever decision she chooses to make. I really don’t have an opinion about whatever that decision is.”
Colvin denied having a somewhat strained relationship with Hawkins.
“I wouldn't say that,” the mayor said. “I would say that, you know, I think we both love this community. We want it safe. And sometimes we agree or may not agree on the policies and the methods that we use to keep it safe. But that's just the way it is. We want to work together. Sometimes you'll have agreement, sometimes you may not agree on everything. I've enjoyed working with her for the last several years.”
Colvin said Hewett did not tell him or the council why Hawkins plans to retire.
Officer Jeremy Strickland, a spokesman for the Police Department, said Hawkins’ retirement is effective Jan. 17, 2023.
Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.