February 22, 2014

New chief in town

Etheridge takes helm of Chatsworth PD

Rachel Brown

— CHATSWORTH — Josh Etheridge’s desire to work in law enforcement was simmering inside him before he graduated from Murray County High School in 2000.

Etheridge, who became chief of the Chatsworth Police Department on Feb. 3, the day after the City Council appointed him to the job, said he has wanted to help the community since he was younger. Now that he’s advanced through the ranks, the main change he has talked about making is having a more visible police presence at community events that focus on education and assistance.

“I want to do my job to the best of my ability,” Etheridge said.

Etheridge was among five candidates the council interviewed for the job, all of them from within the department, said council member Fred Welch, who is also on the council’s Public Safety Committee. Welch said he, along with fellow council members and committee members Brad Rowe and Gary Brock, conducted the interviews before the whole council took a vote.

Celeste Martin was the only council member not on the committee, but Welch said the council’s roughly six other committees also have only three council members and make hiring recommendations in their respective departments.

The sole vote against Etheridge’s hire, Martin didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment. She issued an earlier statement to The Chatsworth Times in which she said she opposed the appointment “because of the manner in which the selection process was conducted,” saying she had not been fully informed about what the other council members already knew before the council called for a vote. At the end of her statement, she expressed confidence in Etheridge, saying she expects him to “go above and beyond and to be a servant for our people.”

Etheridge began his career at the Murray County Sheriff’s Office in 2000 when he was 18. A year later, he was hired at the police department as a patrol officer. In 2004, he was promoted to sergeant on patrol where he worked for a little more than nine years before being promoted to investigator in September.

Etheridge said his father worked in emergency medical services, so he was around public safety officials growing up and knew he wanted to do something similar.

The chief position came open after the council in January decided not to reappoint Terry Martin to the job he’s held for 11 years, instead unanimously making him the city marshal who handles code enforcement duties. Council members declined to go into detail on their decision except to acknowledge Martin’s work on the side doing private investigations factored into the decision.

They appointed Lt. Scott Bickford, who was second in command, as the city’s temporary chief while they conducted a search. Welch said while officials found qualities to appreciate in all five candidates — all of whom work in the department — Etheridge is the one who stood out during the interviews, although he didn’t say exactly why.

Etheridge has also been trained as a supervisor by Police Officer Standards and Training benchmarks and is certified through the organization as a general instructor and as a firearms instructor.

Welch said people outside the department asked about applying for the chief job, but officials decided to keep their search internal to boost morale.

“You try to show your people that if you do a good job that there is a possibility of moving up,” he said.

Etheridge will make about $50,000 a year, although Welch said the council will evaluate him again after six months to decide whether that amount should be adjusted. Council members must appoint or reappoint the police chief every year.

The department employs 14 certified police officers. Etheridge encouraged members of the community to contact him with any concerns at (706) 695-9667.