Steve Heaton, former chief of the Griffin, Georgia, Police Department, has joined the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE), a research unit of the Andrew Young School, as its executive associate director.
In this newly created position, Heaton works on GILEE’s strategic priorities and programs: peer-to-peer trainings with delegations traveling between the U.S. and other countries; the annual business continuity summit that briefs leaders in law enforcement and corporate security; and new plans to expand GILEE’s programs and services statewide.
The position is temporary, allowing Heaton to transition slowly into the role GILEE founder and director Robbie Friedmann holds. “I’m like an executive director-in-training,” says Heaton. “We expect it to run for several years, because GILEE has a lot of moving parts. It’s amazing what Dr. Friedmann has been able to accomplish since 1992.”
Heaton brings a lifetime interest in public safety and 32 years of law enforcement experience to his new role. “While my father was in the Air Force, I joined a Law Enforcement Explorers Post,” he says. That opportunity, at age 14, set the course of Heaton’s career.
He started in firefighting, but policing was a lingering interest, he says. After rising to the rank of lieutenant as an EMT firefighter, he applied for a job in the Florida Highway Patrol. The year was 1982, just after the mass Mariel boatlift brought 125,000 Cubans to South Florida.
“We’d lived in Homestead when Dad was stationed there. I thought going back was going to be a good thing,” he says. But he had arrived in Miami during its now legendary rise in cocaine trafficking and cartels. “I had just married, and my wife and I decided it was not where we wanted to stay, so we moved back to northern Florida.”
Heaton’s career eventually encompassed all aspects of public safety work, including patrolling, investigations, internal affairs, public information, accreditation, state certification and administration. He helped reorganize police departments in Perry and Valdosta, Georgia, and he eventually led both the Fayetteville and Griffin departments as chief.
While policing, Heaton earned an associate’s degree at Macon College, a bachelor’s degree at Georgia College and State University, and a master’s degree at Columbus State University. He was a member of the 190th class of the FBI National Academy in Quantico and the 2009 GILEE delegation to Israel.
His awards and honors are many, as exhibited by his 2012 election as vice president of the Georgia Association of Police Chiefs.
Heaton says he had originally planned to work until his retirement in Griffin. “I took the job in April 2014, and I intended to finish my time as a police chief. Then I learned about the new GILEE position.”
GILEE improves public safety by enhancing inter-agency cooperation and educational training among law enforcement communities by offering best practices and sources of excellence in a peer-to-peer environment. Robert Friedmann, Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice, founded GILEE in 1992 as a joint public safety project of Georgia State University and local, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies.
Since its 1992 founding, GILEE has graduated more than 1,300 public safety and law enforcement officials from all over the world – about half from the U.S., mostly from Georgia – through 380 training exchanges. More than 25,000 public and private safety leaders have attended GILEE’s special briefings, seminars and workshops. And GILEE has assisted Olympic security efforts around the world. Among its many honors, GILEE received the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police President’s Special Service Award, the J. Edgar Hoover Memorial Scholarship and the Governor’s Public Safety Award.
While police chief for Fayetteville, Heaton worked closely with Friedmann as the delegation head of the 2009 GILEE peer-to-peer program. “When we came back, he asked if I’d be interested in continuing to work with GILEE. I’d had a lot of exposure to GILEE as a recipient of its program outreach.” So when the new position opened, he expressed his interest in joining the organization.
Heaton’s career in law enforcement and public safety is the new perspective he brings to GILEE, he believes. “Robbie has a very good background in criminal justice and a great reputation in law enforcement. I bring the field background and experience that offers a practical application to what police officers need and their interests. When a chief is talking to other chiefs about what GILEE can bring to them, you’re on the same level field.”
GILEE plans to expand the program and services it provides, both geographically and based on organizational needs. “While we do have a lot of corporate involvement, particularly in our business continuity summits, we aspire to increase the partnerships between the law enforcement and corporate security communities. We want to build our corporate relationships and network by offering to bridge between law enforcement and corporate security needs and resources,” he says. “So we’re working on plans to develop that, to get corporate security leaders closer to law enforcement leaders to better understand threats to public safety and what to do about them.
“We can look at what they’re doing in the corporate area for our protection, trade secrets, data sets, etc., and share information. I’m looking at how we can enhance these relationships so corporations and law enforcement can better serve their communities.”
Friedmann is excited about the new addition to GILEE. “I welcome Chief Heaton to the GILEE team. He brings the credibility of a reputable law enforcement leader to the program. He knows the field well, and his experience and reputation will be an added asset to GILEE programming. Steve’s addition guarantees GILEE’s business continuity for years to come, and I look forward to his taking over my position in a few years. I look forward to working with Steve through the transition and beyond.”