Homegrown Albany, Dougherty Co. leaders work together to protect the public

Homegrown Albany, Dougherty Co. leaders work together to protect the public
Many Albany and Dougherty public safety leaders have roots in Albany. (Source: WALB)
John Fields is the Albany State University Police Chief. (Source: WALB)
John Fields is the Albany State University Police Chief. (Source: WALB)
Troy Conley is the chief of police for the Dougherty County School system. (Source: WALB)
Troy Conley is the chief of police for the Dougherty County School system. (Source: WALB)
Michael Persley is the chief of the Albany Police Department. (source: WALB)
Michael Persley is the chief of the Albany Police Department. (source: WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - More than eight of the men and women who serve in the highest public safety positions in Albany and Dougherty County are homegrown.

Most are quite proud to tell you the street they grew up on, and where they've gone to high school.

Though many are rival high schools, which you can often hear them fighting about, together they say they are stronger and better because of their similar backgrounds.

"When you are riding through these streets, it's not just, 'I'm the chief here,' but, 'this is my hometown,'" explained Albany Police Chief Michael Persley. "I'm the people's chief."

For Chief Persley, becoming a police officer was an accomplishment in and of itself. Becoming chief in Albany, Georgia was an honor.

Growing up on the east side of town, a Dougherty High graduate, Persley said he's at an advantage. He knows the streets, the people and the makeup of the town.

"This is it," said Persley. "I am part of Albany. Like I said before it's not taking things personal, but you take the extra weight of the city and put it on your shoulders."

And it has its struggles. He said he often knows someone personally who is related to the victim of crimes.

"There's people who don't just know me as the chief. They know who Michael is. They remember Michael from elementary school, middle school, high school and from the neighborhood," said Persley.

Every chief and most of the assistant chiefs have walked the same turf since they were kids. Six chiefs and assistants, the sheriff, as well as the interim fire chief, are from the Good Life City.

Even the airport public safety chief comes from just down the road in Early County. He moved to Albany in the 80s when he enrolled at Darton State College.

"It's very rare that you have this many chiefs, including Sheriff Sproul, we're good friends, to have us all together and we can talk and agree to disagree and come together with a common goal," said Albany State University Police Chief John Fields.

"You don't have that in a lot of communities. I get the biggest benefit is that even though we're all rivals, we went to different schools and lived in different parts of town, we're all Albany and Dougherty Countians. This is our home and we all have a passion for what we do," said Dougherty County Sheriff Sproul.

The leaders said it gives them more will to want to not only enforce the law but make a difference.

"Our roots are here, our families are here and our homes are here," explained Dougherty County Police Chief Cynthia Battle.

"I know just about everybody in so many words. People know me that I don't know," smiled Assistant Dougherty County Police Chief Kenneth Johnson. "Being from Albany has kind of helped me through this all because I do understand the culture and the makeup of Albany."

The chiefs said it benefits the community, but also their workflow. Most have known each other for years.

"We all have known each other coming through the ranks from the lowest patrolman coming on up to upper management. Many times when there is an issue we don't even have to make the phone calls because our counterparts come together," explained Troy Conley, the Dougherty County School police chief.

And for the job as a mentor, that some may not have known they were signing up for, being homegrown pays.

"It's amazing by knowing Albany, being able to tell them the ins and outs, the dos and don'ts, and be a mentor to students and have them help network with key leaders," said Anita Allen, the interim assistant police chief at Albany State University.

The chiefs said they've worn the same shoes as the youngest people they protect.

"I understand sometimes kids from the east side don't think they have the same opportunities, but what I like to say is hard work and perseverance will overcome any disadvantage you have," said Interim Albany Fire Chief Sebon Burns.

Burns said it was in high school during a career day that he realized he wanted to be a firefighter. Now, he does his best to get to as many career days as he can to give that same opportunity to future generations.

"I've been there," explained Fields. "I got out. I did something positive. I could have went the other way, but I could have gone the other way. So we have to be positive role models for these boys and girls."

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