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Montgomery’s new interim police chief to take a thoughtful, focused approach

Jim Graboys, a 33-year police veteran, said he plans to use every resource available to fight crime as Montgomery’s new interim chief.

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, right, introduces interim police chief Jim Graboys at a press conference.
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On the other end of the line, Jim Graboys has gone silent for a few seconds. 

“Let me think about that for a moment, because it’s an important question and I want to make sure that I get the answer correct,” Graboys says, and there is another moment of silence. 

This is Montgomery’s new interim police chief – a thoughtful, composed law enforcement veteran who wants to make sure he gets it right. Not just for himself and the department, but for his friends and family who live in Montgomery. 

“I just care so much,” Graboys said, when I jokingly asked if he was crazy to take the Montgomery Police chief’s job at this time. “When I got into law enforcement – and I think this is true of almost everyone who becomes a police officer – I did so with the idea that I would be making a difference, that I was doing something meaningful. To me, this is something meaningful that I can do to hopefully give back to the community and make the city better.”

That might read like a canned, PR-type response, but it didn’t sound like one when Graboys said it over the phone Tuesday afternoon, in his first in-depth interview after taking over as Montgomery’s interim chief. In fact, it sounded honest. It sounded sincere. 

And there’s no reason to think that it’s anything but. 

Graboys doesn’t need this gig, after all. He’s got 33 years of experience under his belt. He retired from MPD in 2011. He served as the chief of police at Alabama State University for the next six years. He resigned from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to take the interim job in Montgomery, which he starts on July 15. 

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So, Graboys doesn’t need to pander in some half-hearted attempt to win favor. He’s got credentials and experience and enough accomplishments to rest easy. He retired as a major from MPD – a career that included being awarded the Medal of Valor and the Medal of Merit. At ASU, he transformed the campus police department, turning it into a proactive, community-minded force that kept the campus safe even when the surrounding communities experienced upticks in crime. 

All of that said, Montgomery in 2024 is a much different place than it was in 2011 – if for no other reason than the city has become the focus of politicians and critics who are laser focused on crime and MPD’s response to it. Taking the chief’s job at this point is stepping into perhaps the brightest spotlight in Alabama law enforcement. 

“This would be a tough, daunting job no matter what was happening,” Graboys said, downplaying the current state. “What I mean by that is that running any department the size of Montgomery’s would be daunting no matter when you take over. There are so many moving pieces, so many concerns in a city this size.”

Graboys said his first task as new chief will be to talk with … everyone. From citizens and community leaders to the rank and file within the department, Graboys wants input. He wants an accurate picture of what his department is facing, both inside and out. 

“Information is always vital,” he said. 

Graboys’ hire has a tryout feel to it – that it might just be more permanent than interim if the results are solid. Graboys stated candidly that he would accept the job longterm if offered. In fact, he said he felt it would be important to his success to let the MPD officers know that he was committed to the job well into the future. 

Producing solid results, however, won’t be an easy task. MPD is facing a number of issues currently, not least of which is a declining police force. Graboys pointed out that Montgomery isn’t the only city facing such a problem – it’s a national issue, with steadily declining numbers of officers all over the country – and said he would have to get creative and proactive in both dealing with the smaller numbers and attracting new recruits. 

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“We’re going to have to maximize the people we do have and make sure they feel like we’re supporting them and putting them in the best positions to realize success,” Graboys said. “That can have many different looks. Attracting more police officers – and that’s something that every chief in America will tell you that they need – but that’s a priority.”

As for his “style” of policing, Graboys seems to be a bit of a hybrid. On one hand, he said, you have to lock up offenders and make sure you use punishments appropriately to deter crime. But on the other hand, there are many avenues to be pursued that can head off crime before it happens, which is his ultimate goal. 

The latter, he said, mostly comes through collaboration with various shareholders around the city. 

“People have to decide what sort of a city they want to live in,” Graboys said. “National politics don’t matter. All the talking points don’t matter. What matters is the thing that we all want regardless of where we live and who we are – we all want to feel safe in our community. 

“The greatest achievements we made while I was in MPD the first time came through collaborations. Without fail. Those partnerships in which the community worked together to address a problem were the most successful. I don’t think that has changed.”

Neither has Graboys. 

When he left MPD, during a retirement speech, he laid out his belief system for policing. It was part reflection and part advice for the younger officers coming into the job. But the philosophy has never left him, and he said it would be the centerpiece of the way he manages MPD as its interim chief. 

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That belief system, Graboys said, was built around the simple concept of treating both citizens and coworkers the way he would want to be treated – “with understanding and respect” – and that deeds and actions, not words, are the true reflection of a person’s character. 

“That’s who I am and where I’m coming from,” Graboys said. “It’s what I believe and it’s what I’m bringing back with me.”

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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