Burlington city manager Hardin Watkins has announced the city’s new police chief to succeed Jeffrey Smythe who retired in May after eight years in the post and who has since accepted a state position.
Chosen to be the new chief is George “Rich” Austin, Jr. who was selected from a pool of 32 applicants; the post drew interest both locally and nationally, according to Watkins.
Austin, a native North Carolinian from Charlotte, comes to Burlington from Milton, Georgia where he has served as police chief for the past 4½ years. He has 32 years of experience in municipal policing, including 24 years of service with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
During his time in Milton, Austin initiated several innovative initiatives including revamping the department’s use of force policy, restructuring policies to ensure professional accountability and departmental efficiency, creating a chief’s advisory board, enhancing community engagement, and spearheading and maintaining the department’s state and national accreditation.
While serving in Charlotte, Austin held many command-level roles including area commander, watch commander, executive officer of field services (patrol), executive officer of administrative services, and internal affairs commander.
As an officer, Austin served on a team that led the CMPD from traditional policing to the community-oriented policing for which the department has been nationally recognized. According to Burlington’s announcement of Austin’s selection, his years in Charlotte included many years working as a neighborhood officer in the historic Grier Heights community located just outside of downtown Charlotte. While serving in that capacity, Austin was recognized with the City of Charlotte Community Relations Award.
Austin also holds a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from University of Cincinnati, a master’s degree in Public Administration from University of North Carolina at Pembroke, as well as a doctorate in Public Administration from California Baptist University.
Watkins highlighted that Austin has had significant law enforcement leadership training and experience, including the Police Executive Research Forum’s (PERF) Senior Management Institute for Police and the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and command. He has also completed extensive training through the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association (FBI-LEEDA).
Austin “is a dedicated, transformational leader that is highly motivated, well-trusted by his colleagues and the community he serves, and is solution-oriented. He has demonstrated the ability to motivate teams to pursue excellence, including noticeable crime reduction utilizing fair and impartial policing practices,” says city manager Hardin Watkins.
Austin plans to relocate to the Burlington area over the coming weeks. “I am so excited to join the Burlington community and look forward to being back in my home state,” Austin says. “It is such an honor to be chosen to lead the exceptional men and women of the Burlington police department. The department has a national reputation for excellence, and I am thrilled at this great opportunity to serve in such a wonderful community-engaged city.” says Austin of his new role.
“My family and I are looking forward to moving to Burlington and immersing ourselves in the community,” he adds. Austin will be joined by his wife, Ashley, and their 11-year-old daughter, Claire.
Austin plans to begin his new duties in Burlington on September 27, 2021