Troy Conley, chief of the Dougherty County School System Police Department since 2005, says he is in his dream job — serving the public through law enforcement work. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
Troy Conley thought he’d be lawyer, or even a judge one day, he said. But when he was just 19, he got a taste of law enforcement, and he’s never looked back. Starting in 1986, Conley worked in almost every position at the Dougherty County Police Department from “uniform” to detective and, at age 27, became their first African-American officer to obtain the rank of captain. Since August 2005 he’s served as chief of the Dougherty County School System Police Department, responsible for protecting more than 16,000 students in the county’s public schools.
Conley is the proud papa to a 1-year-old daughter and puts a high value on connecting with all his relations. While in the course of his nearly 28 years of police work, he’s met several presidents. He would love to meet one more — President Obama – and sit down for conversation. He’s in his dream occupation of helping people, he says, and can’t imagine that he would ever retire from law enforcement.
With everything he has to do these days, last week Conley found some time to speak with Herald reporter Jim West.
Q. What was your first job?
A. McDonald’s. I worked as a grill cook and a general do-it-all guy. That was where the Arby’s is now on North Slappey. I was around 16 or 17 years old.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?
A. Like all teenagers, I was into music. I had a Ford Pinto station wagon that my parents had given me, and and a lot of the money I made went into buying stereo equipment for my wheels.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. For me, in my position as chief, it’s keeping the officers informed of the good, the bad and the ugly. I’d rather them hear the negatives and the positives directly from me before they read it in the newspapers or see it on the news, or get some kind of document from the administration. It’s no secret where I’ve been trying to take the department. We’ve come a long way since I took the helm back in 2005. Currently you can’t talk about law enforcement in any aspect without the question of “what do you have in place as far as police services for your local schools?”
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did want to be in law enforcement?
A. For a long time I had envisioned becoming a lawyer or even a judge at some point, but while I was at ASU and majoring in criminal justice I applied for the Dougherty County police. Chief Bill Kicklighter hired me when I was 19 years old and law enforcement turned out to be what my desire was. If I retired tomorrow I’d have no regrets.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. I had more than one. My first mentors were my mom and dad. My dad was a master gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps and my mother worked at M&M Mars. I learned a great deal of what I implement now on the job by the foundation I received from my parents. In law enforcement, the two most influential supervisors I had were Chief Kicklighter and Assistant Chief Al Miller. I came up through the ranks under them and law enforcement-wise, I learned a great deal. Those are the four people I attribute my success to.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a law enforcement leader learned from the recent recession?
A. The recession brought a lot of problems for our nation across the board. Whenever there’s a lack of funding there’s a trickle effect and that trickle goes up the ladder and down the ladder. I’ve witnessed an increase in crime, which has fluctuated through the years, and caused a lot people to do some things that maybe they wouldn’t have done if they would have had the money for their basic needs. We’re still in the recovery phase of that. From my standpoint, I’m seeing a decline in that and on the way to what we used to know as a norm. It’ll never be the same, but hopefully it will continue to fall and then level off some time in the future.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?
A. All of those are extremely helpful and useful in this day and age. If I had to choose, it would be automated phone systems, and that’s because if it ever has a glitch in it, it can be come extremely aggravating when you’re trying to get through to someone. I was trying to take care of some business earlier this week and I ended up getting an automated system. Although I was keying in the right numbers, it kept cycling me out, or whatever.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. My favorite is surveillance cameras. Currently we utilize them a great deal here in a school setting. They’re extremely helpful in deterring crime — identifying individuals who may be involved in some form of deviant behavior. It makes my job a lot easier.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. My job requires me to do a lot of reading, like newsletters and incident reports. I’ll surf the Internet just keep up with the daily trends or whatever. Usually, at the executive management level of law enforcement, you can tell what the trend is going to be across the nation by what is in the papers or in the news. For example, if there’s an issue related to the schools, like an active shooter or a hostage situation — say, even if it occurs in New Mexico, the next day I’ll get a couple of phone calls from parents or individuals concerned with how we might address these situations. The last book I read was “Leadership Secrets of Colon Powell.” I’m not an avid reader in that regard, but I will pick up a book now and then to get away from it all.
Q. I’m up and going by …? And what is your morning routine?
A. Usually I’m up by 6:30 a.m. or a quarter till seven and maybe have a light breakfast. I’m a new father. I have a daughter, my first child, at age 47. She just turned 1 year old in December, so I’m still enjoying the newness of that. I turn on the radio and TV to see what’s going on with the national news. I help get my daughter ready for the sitter. When I leave for work I might stop off at different locations or schools before I get to the office, it just depends on what I have scheduled for the day. It may be 10 a.m. before I actually set foot inside the building. (a little more than 16,000 students, more than 2,800 employees and more than 50 properties spread out all over town.)
Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?
A. President Obama. In the course of my work I’ve had the opportunity to meet Presidents Carter and Clinton and Vice -President Chaney. I admire Mr. Obama and I’d love to meet him and have a brief conversation with him. I see him as a smart man, a charismatic man and a good leader.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. I don’t have any real hobbies. I try to do a little repair work around the house. Recently I’ve tried to spend more time with my family. It does me good to meet up with my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and spend as much quality time as possible. I’m the oldest of five and we’re all getting up in age.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I don’t have anything I’d take back. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one that was that so detrimental that I would have changed it or handled it in a different way. One thing I learned a long time ago is never to make knee-jerk decisions. The majority of the major decisions that come across my desk I put I lot of thought into. I make my decisions and I’m still able to sleep at night.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. Helping people. We provide a safe environment for our most prized possessions, and that’s the students. We’re making sure that they have the opportunity to learn in a safe environment. That’s the most rewarding part of my job — knowing that I make a difference.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. I guess that would be that there’s not just endless amounts of funding. I’d like to see additional police coverage. It’s always better to have more than enough.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was …?
A. Typing, in high school. I type probably 6o words per minute. At the time I was in high school, my mom made me sign up for it and I stayed upset with her for a couple of days after that. In college, interpersonal communications — just dealing with people — has been very helpful.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. I’m in my dream job right now, but if I had to choose another it would be something still related to law enforcement.
Q. Finish this thought: “On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself …”
A. Still wanting to work. I would probably seek some type of job related to law enforcement — perhaps consulting work, or possibly even teaching.
Q. What is the one trait a strong leader in law enforcement cannot afford to be without?
A. I think dedication. You’ve got to be dedicated to the job and the people you serve. You’ve got to be dedicated to your coworkers. From time to time there are obstacles you’ll encounter. In police work, a lot of times we get more negative than positive publicity. Providing the people you serve with the best you can possible do — you never come wrong with that.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. I think within the next three to five years we’ll have a full recovery, but that’s my personal opinion. Even here in Albany, I predict a recovery in that time.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. A mixture of soul, R&B, pop, jazz and probably the greatest hits of ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. I think we’ll attract large industry again. We’ve had a lot of industry to leave here and I believe we’ll see it come back full circle. There are a lot of people working hard to get Albany on the right track, or kill some of the negative perceptions which have been cast on the city over the past number of years. I know that as far as the school system, we’re working day in and day out to right the ship and change the mindset of negative images. I look forward to things getting extremely better.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. You can’t talk about law enforcement without mentioning protection for your schools’ settings, K through 12 and college level. When I was with the county police, I remember 12 or 15 years where there was no school resource officer program in place for Dougherty County. Then, like overnight, it became a requirement. I think it’s here to stay because we have so many issues that have come about, and now the world as a whole has changed. Certain actions of certain individuals have changed our lives.