WASHINGTON, Ga. -- During his 21 year career in law enforcement, Investigator Joe Nelson, of the Washington (Ga.) Police Department has faced many challenges. Now that he's been selected to take over the reigns as the new police chief in Thomson, he's set to take on even more challenges.
"I'm going to take the Thomson Police Department from ground zero to above everybody's expectations to what a police department should and can be," said Mr. Nelson during an in-depth interview with The McDuffie Mirror at the Washington Police Department last Friday. "Everyone will start off with a clean slate."
The new police chief already has set high goals for the Thomson Police Department.
"First, I want us to become the best police department within the six-county Toombs Judicial Circuit," said Mr. Nelson. "And ultimately, I want us to work to become the best small town police department in Georgia."
In both instances, he contends those goals are attainable.
Mr. Nelson, who becomes the new police chief after working out a two-week notice with the Washington Police Department, emphasized the importance of police officers working closing with other as a team.
In order for the Thomson Police Department to become as successful as Mr. Nelson wants it to become, "every officer has to be consistent."
He noted that their hearts and minds must be into their jobs as law enforcement officers.
"If they are not, they can't be on the force," stressed Mr. Nelson.
"We're going to be a team," said Mr. Nelson. "And we're going to be family-oriented. We're going to put our heads together and work out a number of things. My administration has to be tight. Things will have to be in the best interest of the City of Thomson and in the best interest of the citizens. We must keep those things in our hearts first and foremost. I will expect everybody's responsibility and loyalty to be to the Thomson Police Department, first, regardless of whether they have a second job. When I need officers, I want to know I can count of them to be there, whether we're conducting a drug raid or working on gang-related problems."
Aside from putting officers in new uniforms, Mr. Nelson, who soon will be referred to as Chief Nelson, said he is a "strong advocate" of community policing.
"I'm going to be out extending handshakes and making eye-to-eye contact with people throughout the community and so are my officers," added Mr. Nelson. "It's important to develop a rapport with everybody -- not just with the bad people. I want to think of everybody as a good person in my heart of hearts until they prove me wrong."
Mr. Nelson said his community policing idea will be brought to Thomson from Washington, where it has been most successful.
"We want business owners and citizens to meet and get to know their police officers," explained Mr. Nelson. "We want them to know that we have their best interest at heart. And we want them to know that we want to serve and protect them at all times."
Mr. Nelson also vows to start a citizen hotline telephone line when he comes onboard as the new police chief.
As a longtime patrol officer and investigator, Mr. Nelson pointed out that he has done everything from getting a cat out of a tree to solving a bank robbery case.
"I've even chased down a number of suspects," said Mr. Nelson, who is known by his nickname, Robo Cop . "If they decide to run, I'll chase them down. That's why I try to stay in shape as best I can. You never know what this job is going to demand of you."
With that in mind, Mr. Nelson said he also plans to start a physical fitness program for his officers.
"I want all of them to be as physical fit to meet the challenges of the job as possible," said Mr. Nelson. "Being in shape is a big part of this job, because you never know when you're going to have a foot chase with a suspect."
While with the Washington Police Department, Mr. Nelson has served as a beat cop and worked himself through the ranks, serving as both a sergeant and lieutenant before becoming chief criminal investigator.
A native of Jefferson County, Mr. Nelson grew up in Wrens, where he was a star player in five different sports -- football, baseball, basketball, cross country and track and field.
In football, he played for former head coach Charles Rutland. The two still share a close friendship.
"Charles Rutland taught me so much about football and basketball and the game of life," said Mr. Nelson. "I'll never forget what all he's taught me. He's a great friend."
Upon graduation from Wrens High School in 1988, Mr. Nelson played college football for a season at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro under the late Erk Russell. He later joined the Army and became a military policeman, serving as a body guard for generals and foreign dignitaries before landing a job as a police officer in Washington.
Since becoming a law enforcement officer there, Mr. Nelson has been responsible for the arrests of more than 1,000 persons on drugs charges, alone. He also has spearheaded several successful undercover investigations, which led to the arrests of major drug dealers.
In addition, he also has solved dozens of residential and commercial burglaries through the years in Washington.
Mr. Nelson is a graduate of Troy University's Augusta campus, where he earned both a bachelor of science and masters' degrees in Criminal Justice. In both instances, he graduated Magna Cum Laude.
He was named Washington City Police Officer of The Year in 1994. Mr. Nelson also was the recipient of a Congressional Award from the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood in 2000, Governor's Award for Law Enforcement Service in 2000 and Mothers' Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Award for Outstanding DUI Enforcement in 2000.
He is married to Kimberly Nelson, a registered nurse at two Augusta area hospitals. The couple has three children. The Nelson family plans to move to Thomson as soon as school ends this summer in Washington.