June’s Empowering Cover Woman Janet Moon – An Officer for the People

In March 1967 Janet Lee Moon was born in the small North Georgia town of Commerce, just outside of Athens. Janet was the youngest, and the peacemaker, of three siblings raised by her mom, Betty, and her grandmother, Rose Lee, after whom Janet was given her middle name. Her mom was a waitress who worked hard to support her children, and Janet spent much of her childhood in the care of Rose Lee, affectionately called “MawMaw,” who was hearing impaired and mute.

With Janet starting third grade, the family moved to Cedartown, south of Rome, and remained there throughout her high school years. She’s a Bulldog fan through and through, having been born near the University of Georgia, then attending Cedartown High School with its bulldog mascot.

Growing up in a small, tightly-knit town, Janet was a pretty good kid, overall. It was a community where the kids went indoors when the streetlights came on and everyone took care of each other, including the local police department.

“They looked out for me. They knew my grandmother was hearing impaired and that my mother worked a lot,” she recalls. “Two of the officers had a relative that lived a few houses down from us, and so they always looked after me. One of them spanked my bottom when I needed it one time, and it put me back on the right track. I don’t really remember what I did, but I remember he put me in the back of the police car, took me home, and said he didn’t want to see me back out for the rest of the day. I guarantee you, I earned it, whatever it was…”

When she was 14, Janet and her best friend, Dawn, had mopeds and would ride all over town. “The police never really gave me a problem,” she remembers. “They just told us to stay safe and pay attention to what we were doing. They always kind of mentored me.”

During her final year of high school, Janet took the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, and her results suggested she was well-suited to be a military police officer. She enlisted in December of her senior year, at age 17, with parental consent from Betty, and went to basic training and advanced individual training at Ft. McClellan, Alabama when she graduated.

Janet in the US Army

When her training was complete, Janet transferred to Frankfurt, Germany and was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division 503 MP Company “Spearhead.” At the time, there were not supposed to be women in the company as their mission was to guard the Fulda Gap (a location in southern Germany geographically and strategically important to the Cold War), should World War III break out. “Our life expectancy was supposed to be 24 to 48 hours. It was before women were supposed to be in combat roles,” she says.

Janet had signed up for a three-year enlistment, but wanted to do a year stateside as well. She signed an agreement to extend her enlistment six extra months, so that her last 12 months could be spent back on U.S. soil. She was initially slated to return to Georgia to be posted at Ft. Stewart, but as she was awarded “Soldier of the Year” for her division, her orders were changed so that she was assigned to the Military District of Washington, D.C. for her final year.

“I wouldn’t change my experience [in the military] for anything,” she says. “I still have lifelong friends from that experience, and it actually made me a better student. I was more prepared for life at that point.”

Janet’s next goal was to find a way to put herself through college. “I was the first person in my family to go to college. I felt like that was my responsibility to make that happen, and I didn’t want to put that financial burden on my mother.”

“When I got home from D.C., I had no idea what I was going to do so I called the Cedartown Police Chief and asked if there were any openings. I didn’t tell him who I was or anything. But he said, ‘No.’” Soon after, she saw a newspaper ad for the Rome Police Department and put in for the job thinking she didn’t stand a chance—not knowing anyone there, or knowing anything about working for a local police department—but she was called in and hired and sent to the police academy on the campus of Floyd Junior College.

In the academy, Janet says, “They nominated me, and I became the class president. At that time, I was the only class president that also graduated as the honor graduate.”

She put herself through college working many extra hours for Rome PD and making good use of the department’s tuition assistance programs that helped cover many of the costs. Since she started working toward her associate’s degree after working in the agency for a few years, she couldn’t realize its full benefits, but she was able to leverage her GI Bill from the military to offset many costs as well.

She received her associate’s in criminal justice from Floyd Junior College (now Georgia Highlands College), and her bachelor’s in organizational management was awarded at Covenant College.

“Rome PD was a wonderful place to work. It taught me how to be a good street officer. I worked patrol, doing my time there,” she says. She was also a motorcycle officer there, and worked DUI Task Force, before she was promoted to Sergeant. After patrolling the street as a sergeant, she was transferred over to the records department and worked with the court, with a lot more administrative duties—which she says really set her up to help her be a chief in the future. Through the National Accreditation process, she learned all aspects of the police department, and how to work in conjunction with other departments as well.

Janet in October 1989 upon graduation from police mandate training with her Mama and MawMaw.

Though there were very few women in the department, Janet never gave much thought to being a female officer, especially since she had been in a male-dominated role since she graduated high school. “It was never about being a female, for me,” she says. “My mother taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do, as long as I was willing to put in the hard work and the effort to go with it. That’s the way I’ve always approached everything.”

She recalls when the position opened up for a motorcycle officer. “I was standing at the bulletin board when the posting came up, and I said to myself, ‘That looks like an interesting thing to do.’ There was a Major there who laughed and said, ‘You can’t put in for that.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ and he said, ‘Because you’re a woman. Women don’t ride motorcycles.’ I was like, ‘Oh, you just said the wrong thing to Janet Lee Moon!’” So she took her motorcycle test with the Georgia State Patrol and became the first female motorcycle officer in Rome.

After 12 years in Rome, Suwanee Police Chief Mike Jones, who had been on the hiring panel when Janet was hired in Rome, asked her to come work for him in Suwanee. “September 11 happened, and I was sitting in my office in Rome as a lieutenant in the traffic unit,” she says. We turned the tv on, and I knew when the second plane hit, it was not an accident. It invoked a lot of feelings about life being too short. I had a chance to go do something, to not get caught in my box and be afraid to step out.” So after three years of Mike asking, Janet agreed to sign on as his Captain of Field Operations and Communication. In 2006, she was promoted to Deputy Chief.

The Suwanee Police Department also offered to help Janet with tuition for her master’s degree should she take the position. It was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Janet then earned her master’s degree in public administration from Columbus State University.

When she went to meet Mike for her first day’s introduction to her new team in Suwanee, he was acting a little strange. He admitted to her that he hadn’t told the troops that she was a woman. He told her that it shouldn’t matter. “He had a lot of trust and faith in me, and told me to just let them get to know me. When I walked in the door, it was obvious that he hadn’t told them. At the time, there weren’t many female officers in the department, especially not in any ranking positions. Now we’re seeing more and more women take on these roles, and it’s an amazing thing.”

One of Janet’s best attributes throughout her career is that she’s always been good with people. She was able to put a lot of things in place in the Suwanee PD as far as community-oriented policing. “It’s a philosophy,” she says, “that is a total change in mindset. It’s not just teaching a class or running a program. It’s community partnerships and problem solving. You have to be willing to engage. You have to be willing to listen to constructive criticism. You have to have the communication.”

“You have to lead by example,” she adds. “For them to buy into the philosophy, they have to see me do it.” For her, it’s about changing the face of government. She made a point to attend all community meetings to show her interest in the citizens’ concerns, and show that the officers had her support as well.

Janet stayed with the Suwanee PD for 14 years before she became aware that the position of Chief of Police was available in Peachtree City. She had one of her horses in training in Senoia and was somewhat familiar with the area. Her family encouraged her to put in for the job, though she was a bit hesitant to apply for a chief’s position. In the end, she decided to go for it, sending in her application at the last minute. She received a call from HR to come in for an interview the following week. ‘Wow, this just got real!’ she said to herself. Despite being the next in line to be Chief in Suwanee, she felt it was the right time to think about making a move.

The application and hiring process went by more quickly than she ever expected. After her first interview with an internal panel, she was called back to interview with the citizens’ panel the following week. Ellece Brown (HR) told her that they had decided to narrow it to three people from the 100-plus applicants. “I had a lump in my throat,” says Janet. The names of the new police chief candidates would soon go public. She had to let her chief know she might be moving on.

Debbie Britt, Executive Director of Patient Services for Piedmont Fayette, was on the internal hiring panel for Peachtree City’s Chief of Police, and remembers her first impression of Janet. “Peachtree City was coming out of a very difficult time with their police department and the search was very thorough. I thought all the candidates were excellent and I knew that this was going to be a tough decision, but when Janet walked into the room, she commanded that room in a very positive way. She provided example after example of the type of leader she was, and that’s what stood out to me; all of her experience and accomplishments. It was clear to me that this was a highly professional person who had extraordinary leadership skills, but with an element of humility. You could see the servant leadership in her. She clearly demonstrated that her focus was on the needs of others first.”

Two weeks later, Janet met with interim City Manager John Rorie and was offered the position to become the new Chief of Police for Peachtree City starting August 10, 2015.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I was blown away. I didn’t expect it, and like I had said before, ‘Wow! This really got real!’ I had my farm up in Buford and the family living there, so this was huge. I’ve got to uproot a lot of different things and a lot of different people. But we prayed about it a lot and felt it was the right thing to do, and as a family, we dug in.”

Janet stayed with friends in Newnan for about six months before finding her own 25-acre paradise in Brooks to relocate her family and farm. Her menagerie includes donkeys, horses, goats, cows, pigs, chickens and more. “My farm is my happy place,” she says, “my safe place.” It’s where her family gathers for meals, holidays and fellowship. She has, over the past four years, moved the majority of her family to the area to be closer to them.

Janet’s establishment as the new chief did come with a bit of uncertainty in the community. She was the third chief in six months following interim Chief Stan Pye on the heels of an incident in which

Janet on her farm.

former Chief William McCollom shot his wife (ruled as accidental).

Two weeks before Janet started the job, there was a well-attended meet and greet at the police station, with several officers and citizens in attendance, as well as the media. “Everyone had their own agenda of what they wanted to know. I knew that there were a lot of different things and areas that needed to be addressed. One I quickly picked up on was that the department needed some healing. The men and women of that agency have always been professionals and have always done their jobs, but they had taken a beating. I thought I might truly be able to help with that, starting with the command staff.”

“I was definitely a different chief, philosophically, than what they’d had throughout most of their careers,” she points out. “They were used to a very autocratic, authoritarian style, and that’s not my style unless it’s an emergency—then you do what you’ve got to do. But at the end of the day, fundamentally, I believe in servant leadership.”

Stan Pye with Janet.

Former Chief Stan Pye can attest to the differences in Janet’s leadership style. “She’s humble and she doesn’t mind taking a step back for someone else to take the spotlight,” he says. “We hit it off from the first time we met. I was very impressed with her. I left our meeting and I called a couple of my lieutenants and told them she’s exactly what Peachtree City needs at this time.”

“She inherited a department in a rebuilding stage,” he adds. “It was just recovering from all the bad press and scrutiny from the shooting, and while it might seem like she was coming into a bad situation, it was actually a good situation. She could start hiring people the way she wanted to see the department run in the future.”

She came in with a different interviewing style, Stan says. She was looking for people who would be strong in community relations. “That’s where her comfort spot is. That’s where she shines,” he explains, “in the giving back and the servant leadership that she brought. It was really heartwarming to see someone who said they’d be there for their officers, and she truly was there. She’d help them out any way she could.”

He continues by explaining that with Janet’s mindset, she’s been able to direct her new-hire officers to see that being an officer is not just about locking people up and pulling people over, but that it’s about helping people in the community.

Janet is shifting the narrative of how her officers are viewed. “I have always believed discipline is both positive and negative. When defense attorneys give me open records requests for the discipline records of an officer, I would overload them with all this positive discipline. ‘Here’s the one time when they may have misstepped, but here are 100 other times when they’ve exceeded the job or done something good.’ If you ask me for discipline, you’re getting the good and the bad.”

And during the Covid-19 pandemic, the department is taking the approach of education over citations. “I just hope the citizens know that we do monitor the climate. We know there are impacts with the economic situation. We have small businesses that are out here suffering. It’s a delicate balance. We are not immune to that either. We are here, and we want to be the police for the people. The men and women in this department do so much more behind the scenes than people even realize.”

She understands that there is need in the community that might not be apparent from the outside. “There are so many different examples of things our officers have done. I could not be prouder of the men and women of that police department. They are exceptional.”

Janet consistently encourages her officers to get involved with the citizens. Peachtree City’s My Community Officer Program was established to help officers communicate with their individual territories on a more personal level. The PTCPD was awarded the Dr. Curtis McClung/Motorola Award for Excellence for the program in 2019. “That was one of the best feelings I have had in a long time, that the men and women in my agency achieved that award,” she says. “I wanted to cry, it was so awesome!”

Among her other community involvement initiatives, Janet has also helped Piedmont Fayette Hospital with self defense and personal safety training for its staff. Debbie Britt says, “I’ve learned so much from her and her team. She has been so good for our community and is willing to do anything, at any time.”

There are many programs available for citizens to become directly involved with the police department as well. The CERT program (Community Emergency Response Team) began in order to help educate and train people how to help themselves and their neighbors in disaster situations, allowing them to take anactive role in emergency planning and recovery. Janet says well over 1,200 people have gone through theprogram, and the department has called on them for things like removing trees from roadways after bad storms to augment the public works department. The Citizen’s Police Academy, Junior Police Academy and the Auxiliary Police are other programs with different levels of involvement. (More info at peachtree-city.org)

The agency has also just started publishing its own online quarterly newsletter for citizens to keep up with the latest. Read it at: peachtree-city.org/1304/Community-Newsletter. The department’s Facebook page is another trove of information, with some much-needed humor and satire thrown in.

 

 

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