New Mercer Police chief is doing what he loves most — community policing

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headshot of man in police uniform
Mercer Police Chief Gary Mills. Photo by Thais Ackerman

Gary Mills joined Mercer Police in 2016, ready for a new challenge following a 30-year career with Georgia State Patrol. His work with the University has allowed him to return to community policing and focus on one of his favorite aspects of law enforcement work: building relationships. 

Appointed Mercer Police’s new chief this spring, Mills strives to maintain and expand upon the measures put in place by predecessor Gary Collins, who retired in January after 41 years at Mercer, while continuing to strengthen his team’s ties with the community. 

Mills, originally from Milledgeville and a resident of Gray for the past 20 years, initially thought about becoming a coach and teacher.

“But like so many people at that age, I was still searching. I decided to go into the military. I went to the U.S. Navy. It gave me an opportunity to grow up and experience different things. It was a positive experience,” said Mills, who served for three years. “Right as I was getting out of the Navy, it just came to me. I wasn’t really looking for a job; I was looking for a career. I decided I wanted to have a career in law enforcement.”

Mills, who graduated from the Law Enforcement Command College at Columbus State University and holds an associate’s degree from Georgia Military College, went to work for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy sheriff. He was on the DUI task force for three years, which made him start thinking about a long-term career in law enforcement and led him to Georgia State Patrol.

“That was everything that I wanted it to be. That was what I put my sights on. Back then, it was very competitive to get on with state patrol,” he said. 

He started out in the driver’s license division and then headed to the 66th Trooper School, an intensive 32-week program. Upon completion, he was stationed in Milledgeville, where he spent 10 years serving as a state trooper before being promoted to the training division. He was a Trooper School instructor and later ran day-to-day operations as a sergeant first class. 

He left for two years to be a post commander in Dublin and then returned to the training division for another 12 years. He trained hundreds of state troopers in the 76th through 96th Trooper Schools. 

“You saw an individual come in right at the start — entry level — and were part of the process in helping them graduate. You see how the confidence is built, the camaraderie, the morale is always high. I just missed that environment. That’s why I went back,” he said.

Mills retired from Georgia State Patrol in 2015 and spent a year fulfilling an earlier dream. He was the head wrestling coach and assistant football coach at John Milledge Academy.

“I planned on coaching early in my career. When I retired, that was on my bucket list,” he said.

In 2016, he heard about an opening with Mercer Police and thought it sounded like a unique challenge. 

“With the (state) patrol, I was in a training environment, and it was more enforcement oriented, where Mercer Police is the epitome of community policing,” he said. “That’s the best thing about it. We’re given the opportunity to try to help, and we do that. I know that motto is ‘protect and serve,’ but we take that to another level.”

Mills was promoted to administrative lieutenant in 2018, interim chief in January of this year, and chief in April. He oversees Mercer Police on both the Macon and Atlanta campuses. 

“Everything has been going very well,” he said. “The support from President (William D.) Underwood and his team has been very good. That’s a motivator for me, them having the confidence that they have in the police department. I am grateful, and I appreciate the opportunity to serve in this capacity.”

Many Mercer Police officers have followed a similar career path as Mills, working in sheriff’s or police departments earlier in their careers. 

“This is a new stage in their life. It almost comes full circle for all of us,” he said. “We come back to a place where we want to serve and help our community. You get to know people, instead of it just being a number or a case or a call. We can actually build relationships with people. That’s the key in law enforcement.”

Mills said he has an open-door policy. If students and community members know officers by name and not just by their car or uniform, they are more likely to trust them and come to them when there is an issue. His officers participate in a training every month, some of which touches on how to be approachable and bridge generational gaps. 

Communicating with students is a priority for the officers, who often go above and beyond what’s expected to facilitate positive interactions. 

“We want to try to do what we can and not just be here when they need us but be here when they want us to be there,” Mills said. 

Going forward, Mills hopes to grow the technology side of Mercer Police and elevate relationships with the Mercer community. He is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with campus offices and organizations to keep Mercer students and community members safe. 

“Mercer Police is not an independent department. I don’t want anybody ever thinking it’s just us. We have so many other departments that are right there with us that we lean on. It is truly a team effort,” he said. 

Outside his work, Mills enjoys exercising and spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren. His daughter is currently a Mercer student, and his two sons live out of state, and each have two children. 

Two police officers standing in front of a patrol car in a parking lot with trees in the background. Both are wearing badges and the car has "Mercer Police" written on it. They appear focused and professional.
Mercer Police Chief Gary Mills, left, and Maj. Charles Platt. Photo by Thais Ackerman

 

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Andrea Honaker
Andrea Honaker is a digital content specialist at Mercer. She writes feature stories for The Den and creates and maintains content for primary University web pages. She also plans and executes campaigns for the primary official Mercer University social media accounts.