Columbus set to confirm Stoney Mathis as police chief

Columbus is set to confirm Stoney Mathis as the city's new police chief.

Credit: Tim Chitwood/Ledger-Inquirer

Columbus Council was expected Tuesday to confirm Stoney Mathis as the city’s new permanent police chief, removing from his title the “interim” label he has worn since May.

Most councilors have expressed support for Mathis, who needs six of council’s 10 votes to be confirmed. The nomination from Mayor Skip Henderson was among the first items on the agenda for the 9 a.m. meeting at the City Services Center off Macon Road.

Mathis took the interim position amid intense racial division over council’s ousting his predecessor, Freddie Blackmon, Columbus’ second Black police chief.

Blackmon’s supporters alleged he was treated unfairly because of his race, and crowded council meetings in protest. Blackmon accepted a $400,000 severance package on April 6 and left the job April 30.

Freddie Blackmon

After an hour long closed session, Columbus Council announced Police Chief Freddie Blackmon has accepted a $400,000 severance offer and will leave the city’s employment on April 30. Mayor Skip Henderson thanked the chief for his service.

Credit: Mike Haskey/Ledger-Inquirer

Henderson consulted the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, and found an experienced replacement in Mathis, who twice served as chief before, in Chattahoochee Hills and in Fairburn, Georgia.

He started as interim on May 8, taking over a police force plagued by low morale and staffing shortages, among other issues identified in a privately funded police study that blamed poor management.

“Reading in the paper, you know there’s a culture problem here in the Columbus Police Department,” Mathis said on his first day. “It takes a little while to change the culture, but you can change the atmosphere very quickly, and that’s my goal, to change the atmosphere.”

He would focus first on morale, he said: “I’m going to come in and raise the level of morale, that’s my goal,” he said. “Build relationships with the community, that’s my second goal.... My management style is I manage by walking around.”

Stoney Mathis, second from right, speaks with law enforcement officers Monday morning.

Stoney Mathis, second from right, speaks with law enforcement officers Monday morning.

Credit: Mike Haskey/Ledger-Inquirer


Mathis has done a lot of walking around since then, visiting divisions within the department, riding with patrol officers, and popping in at community events.

“He has made himself available to the lowest ranking officer on the force up to the chiefs,” citywide Councilor Judy Thomas said, referring to the deputy chiefs heading police divisions.

She said the only complaint she has heard is that Mathis “moves too fast.”

Otherwise he appears to have broad support, she said.

“The things that I have heard about the police chief from officers and citizens of the community have been positive,” she said.

The mayor proposes that Mathis be paid $170,980.77 annually.

Though Mathis said in May that he would not ask to be Columbus’ full-time police chief, he changed his mind and applied in July.

“I think that I have the aptitude and the personality to continue to make this place better; that’s the only reason I’ve applied,” he said.

He proposed changes he said would improve morale and reduced personnel losses in a department that fell 190 short of a full force of 488.

Cutting 44 positions from the budgeted 488 to free $2.5 million for a $5,000 pay raise to each 911 dispatcher and police officer.

Targeting home and car burglaries to reduce the number of stolen guns that are used in other crimes.

Switching from 10 to 12 hour shifts to put more police officers on the street, with one per shift serving in a specialized unit.

Allowing patrol officers to wear more comfortable police caps with their uniforms.

Eliminating punishment for minor disciplinary infractions, such as suspending officers for hitting a curb in their city car or being more than 20 minutes late.



Mathis got his formative experience with the Henry County Police Department, starting in 1995 and rising to the rank of deputy chief by 2010.

He was appointed chief of the Chattahoochee Hills Police Department in 2016, and headed the Fairburn Police Department from 2018 to 2022, when the city reported a 52% reduction in its crime rate.

Mathis told the Ledger-Enquirer in May that he had not planned to be a law enforcement officer, back when he was in college at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma.

A linebacker and defensive end on a championship college football team. Mathis was studying to become a college coach.

Then he chose an elective course in criminal justice, and had to ride along with a patrol officer as part of the work.

The way the officer dealt with the public inspired him.

“After I rode with that police officer, I changed my major: I wanted to be a police officer,” he said. “I saw how engaged that police officer was, and I decided that’s the kind of cop I want to be.”

He said then that police officers often handle the public the way their superiors handle them, so that management makes the difference.

“A lot of times, police officers will treat the citizens exactly the way they’re being treated by their supervisors,” he said.

“So my goal is to have our supervisors treat our officers with the utmost respect, so that our police officers treat our citizens with the same respect. And I think it all starts with respect.”

Stoney Mathis answers questions from the media Monday morning. Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson has appointed Chief Stoney Mathis as Interim police chief of the Columbus Police Department.

Stoney Mathis answers questions from the media Monday morning. Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson has appointed Chief Stoney Mathis as Interim police chief of the Columbus Police Department.

Credit: Mike Haskey/Ledger-Inquirer

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Ledger-Inquirer