BARTOW — Last week, Bartow Police Chief Joe Hall abruptly announced his retirement at the end of May.
“I was surprised (Hall) decided to retire now,” said Bartow City Manager George Long. “But it was not totally unexpected.”
Hall took the helm of the city force just over a decade ago and says that, when he was hired, he told officials at the time that he would probably only serve about 10 years before retiring.
“I've always been planning to leave after 10 years,” Hall said. “And I just felt the department was in a good place and the timing seemed good for me and my family.”
However, reports suggest that the timing of Hall's departure stems from recent allegations of racial bias within the department and is the result of an investigation into those inferences — suggestions that Hall disputes.
“That is not the case at all,” Hall told the Sun. “That was an isolated incident and did not have anything to do with my decision to retire.”
The incident that brought the allegations of racial bias within BPD stems from an incident months ago, when an officer reportedly used a racial slur while on duty. Controversy arose around the extent of the discipline imposed by Hall.
The outgoing chief argues that the officer was disciplined and later resigned before further department discipline was warranted. Both Hall and Long said the incident was handled per departmental procedures when the officer was sent home on administrative leave while an internal investigation was launched.
The incident launched a host of accusations from community activists of racial bias to the city commission. City Commissioner Leo Longworth, the city board's only black member, subsequently asked Long to take a look at racial representation in both the police department and other city departments.
Long says that the issue is under review and when his review is finished he will bring those results to the commission.
Longworth also weighed in favorably on the outgoing chief.
“The chief has been effective,” said Longworth, “and has always had an open-door policy for all our residents. He has made a real effort to reach out to the entire community. Chief Hall has exceeded expectations in some areas and has always made an effort, and the lack of parity doesn't mean the departments are racist.”
The veteran commissioner also said his request for a citywide review wasn't made in the interest of bolstering bias complaints, but rather to underscore the need “to be aware that the city should always be trying to have our employees reflect the city's demographics.”
Meanwhile, Hall said he has almost reached his number one goal as chief.
“I wanted to get the city department accredited — and all the pieces are in place for that to happen,” he said.
He added that the accreditation board had been scheduled for its final review before giving the department that seal of approval this summer, but the pandemic had delayed that to later in the year.
Hall said he and his wife, Winnie, had previously planned to head back north, to the couple's Panhandle farm, and that it was just a matter of when.
“We've always known this wasn't going to be a permanent move for us,” he explained. “We've got a farm near Chipley, and other family there, so we just decided now as the time. .. The crime rate in the city is the lowest it has been since 1973, and this is just a good time to retire while we are still young enough to enjoy it.”