New police chief hired in Lilburn

LILBURN - Lilburn officials announced Tuesday that the police chief of Mauldin, S.C., a 32-year law enforcement veteran and graduate of the FBI National Academy, has accepted an offer to head the city's police force.

John Davidson, 49, will replace retiring Lilburn Police Chief Ron Houck, who departs after almost three decades at the helm of the department. Houck will remain in office for about 30 days to assist with the transition, according to city manager Tom Combiths.

Davidson is tentatively scheduled to take over Feb. 20.

Davidson said he took the job because he has accomplished most of the goals he set five years ago when he became the Mauldin police chief. Prior to that, Davidson spent 20 years in the Oak Ridge Police Department in Tennessee, where he climbed the ranks from an officer to a lieutenant, or shift commander.

"It was a matter of looking for new challenges," said Davidson, reached by phone in South Carolina on Tuesday. "Lilburn, it seems like a great little town, a great place to live. I've always worked in small towns. I've never been attracted to big-city policing."

The city of Lilburn has about 11,419 residents, according to statistics released by U.S. Census Bureau in 2004. Mauldin has a population estimate of 18,604.

Davidson will take over a department that has been rocked by turmoil and racial divisiveness during the past year. Three officers complained of discrimination to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found evidence to substantiate a fired Hispanic officer's claim that he was passed over for a promotion because of his ethnicity. The other two complaints are still under investigation.

Davidson said he is not nervous about entering the department under those circumstances.

"I don't think that there is any cause to be apprehensive at all," he said. "There are going to be challenges to face every department. We will work through each of these challenges one step at a time and look at it as a problem-solving exercise."

Davidson said Mauldin has faced issues similar to Lilburn in responding to an increasingly diverse population. Mauldin has a 6 percent Latino population. Lilburn's Hispanic population is estimated at about 13 percent, while blacks and Asians make up another 11 percent each, Combiths said.

Davidson said he hopes to partner with existing community groups and volunteers in reaching out to minority communities. While Lilburn has just one Spanish-speaking officer, Davidson said he will not put an emphasis on recruiting minorities.

"We are going to try to recruit large numbers of applicants," Davidson said. "Among the best and brightest applicants will be a significant number of minority applicants."

Davidson was selected from more than 110 applicants from across the country who applied after the position was advertised in September.

Houck declined to be interviewed, referring questions to city officials. City Council members and staff have consistently praised Houck's performance on the job, calling him "an outstanding police chief." Lilburn Councilman Scott Batterton, who has known Houck since 1979, has said Houck's decision to retire was not influenced by the recent EEOC complaints.