New chief, headquarters for Hampton police
By Monroe Roark
A couple of big changes in the Hampton Police Department have come about in the span of only a few days.
Derrick Austin was named the department’s new chief at the April 14 City Council meeting, and the city hosted an open house April 20 for its newly-renovated police headquarters.
Austin has spent more than two decades in law enforcement, and “every day I’ve done it has been in Henry County,” as he said during an interview last week.
A lifelong county resident and Henry County High School graduate, he worked three years for the Henry County Police Department and three years for the Locust Grove Police Department before joining the Hampton force in 1999.
According to his bio on the city’s web site, Austin was uniform patrol commander just before becoming chief, and he has worked on the criminal investigations unit as well. He is a certified field training officer and GBI-certified in marijuana identification, and he has a degree in criminal justice as well as being an accomplished pilot.
Austin now leads a department with 17 full-time and two reserve officers. That is about double the size of the force when he came on board, an increase that reflects the population growth in Hampton during that time.
“We have our share of stuff, but we’ve been fortunate not to have a lot of really serious crime like homicide,” he said. “There have only been a few since I’ve been here.”
For much of the country Hampton is identified with Atlanta Motor Speedway, but that facility is not within the city limits. The only thing the police deal with on race day is increased traffic, but that has improved greatly of late, according to Austin.
“When they four-laned Hwy. 20 it made things a lot simpler,” he said. “We don’t have the logjams in town like in the old days.”
Austin’s predecessor, Rad Porter, was with the department 19 years and spent nine years as chief. The kind of longevity both men displayed in Hampton seems to be the rule, not the exception.
“We’ve been blessed over here,” said Austin. “When you work in a smaller place it becomes a kind of family. We don’t have a very big turnover at all.”
To emphasize that point, the chief said that only one or two of his officers have been on the job in Hampton fewer than five years.
Now those officers have more room to work, since the renovations on the police station were completed within the past few months and have resulted in much-needed additional space. The building on Main Street was the old Hampton post office until the late 1990s when the larger postal facility opened on Hwy. 19/41. After that the building served as City Hall briefly until being taken over by the police department.
During the renovation period the officers and staff had to move across the street to the Depot and make do with three offices. “It was kind of cozy for a while but we made it work,” said Austin.
The new and improved HQ includes a secure gated parking lot for police cars, which in the past shared a parking area with the public. There is also a large indoor garage area which is safer when transporting prisoners.
The updated evidence room - with cameras, ventilation, alarms and other new features - is a major upgrade from the previous room which was “basically a large closet,” as Austin put it. Also added was a conference room that city officials, as well as police, have used and there are now two state-of-the-art interview rooms for witnesses and suspects, complete with one-way glass and recording equipment.
Austin said a group of elementary students toured the facility recently and commented on how the interview area was just like they had seen on television, meaning that in their minds it was top-notch.
The new chief looks forward to continuing the city’s police operations as smoothly as in past years, utilizing the station upgrades and keeping up with ongoing technological advances to provide outstanding service for citizens.