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Council selects Collier as chief

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

Who is Lt. Col. Ken Collier?

If you've lived in Decatur, chances are good you know him already.

He's the 36-year veteran of the Decatur Police Department whom the City Council unanimously voted police chief during Monday night's meeting.

As deputy chief, Collier became acting chief and assumed day-to-day operations of the Police Department when Police Chief Joel Gilliam retired Feb. 23.

He officially takes office March 12.

The Athens native moved to Decatur in his freshman year of high school, graduated here, and has served on the police force since he left the Marines as a sergeant in 1970. His military service included a 13-month tour in Vietnam.

"I came to work for the Police Department having never really thought about being a policeman. A friend had encouraged me to apply," said Collier.

But Collier soon developed a passion for the job. Over the years he served in various capacities, working as a patrolman, an investigator and later rising to administrative positions.

Collier, 59, said he never wanted to work for another Police Department.

"I always tried to be the best cop, the best investigator I could be. Once I got into an administrative role, I wanted to be the best administrator I could be," he said.

The City Council's vote puts him in the position in which he feels he can best serve the city at this point in his career.

He brings knowledge gleaned from working under three different police chiefs, Pack Self, Frank Shafer Jr. and Gilliam. He learned a great deal from each, and plans to perpetuate many of Gilliam's ideas, he said.

The Police Department is on the cusp of greatness, Collier said.

"I've always felt like our department has the potential to be the best police department in the state of Alabama. ... The most encouraging thing to me is the attitude of the men and the women of the department. We all love the city of Decatur and we're bound and determined to make this the best police department we can. We feel like the city deserves that," Collier said.

Collier said he aims to take measures to retain good officers and also to create a diverse police force by recruiting minority officers.

Better recruiting

"We've got to do a better job of recruiting than we have in the past, and we've all recognized that for some time. We were very fortunate with this last class, where we hired 11 people, and we feel like it's one of the best classes of all time. We've got to recruit better, and we've got to retain good officers once we get them on board and get them trained and specialized because we've put a great deal of money and time into getting them trained."

Collier said he wants to emphasize the serve part of "serve and protect."

"We want to get to the point that every time we answer a call, regardless of the type of call it is, when we're through, they'll feel like we've done all we can do," he said. "We can't fix everything, certainly, but we want people to feel like we've done all we can do. That's spending more time on calls. In order to do that, we've got to streamline ourselves."

Collier's familiarity with the department should help him streamline.

"I know what most of the officers' strengths and weaknesses are, and I will try to put them where they can be most successful," he said.

He also hopes to put greater emphasis on crime prevention. Police will work with other agencies to eliminate "any kind of blight or decay in our neighborhoods that might be creating crime or attracting crime," Collier said.

"Drugs are going to be a very front-line target for us," he said. "... One of the mandates that we've been given is to do everything we can do to eliminate drugs in this city. We'll do whatever it takes, manpower, resources, money, material, to send someone to prison if they're dealing drugs in our community."

Series of meetings

Collier said intends to set up a series of five town hall-style meetings, one in each city district, beginning later this month, to gather input from the public on how to become a more community-oriented police department.

Collier lives in Decatur with his wife, Leisa, and their two Jack Russell terriers. He has three grown children and four grandchildren.

In his free time, he said, he enjoys playing guitar and riding motorcycles. He took up both hobbies only about a year ago, he said.

He also enjoys studying the history of police work, and he sometimes works as an adjunct instructor at Athens State University.

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