Hawthorne police chief building his agency

Hawthorne Chief of Police Jack Donadio sits March 14 amongst the patrol cars that have been donated for the new Hawthorne Police Department outside of Hawthorne City Hall.

AARON DAYE / The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 3:17 a.m.

He doesn't have an office. He doesn't have any officers. And his department doesn't technically exist.

Yet Jack Donadio, 62, said his first few weeks as Hawthorne's new police chief have gone well. And though it will take time, he said he expects he will soon have a department of which local residents will be proud.

"It's going slow," Donadio said. "I had a plan, and it always looks good on paper and in your mind, but when it comes to making it work, it doesn't always go as you expected."

Donadio's job started March 12, but he was basically given a blank slate when he walked into town.

Hawthorne has not had its own police department since the early 1970s, according to City Manager Chad Shryock, so Donadio must first re-establish the department's existence before moving on to other basic tasks such as hiring officers.

"It's a lot longer, more tedious process than most folks envisioned," Shryock said.

The main task at hand is getting the department recognized by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement by having an ORI number, which is a unique number that identifies law enforcement agencies, assigned to the Hawthorne Police Department. From there, Donadio can request an application packet to use when hiring officers.

And even though the department doesn't have an office or any officers, it does have four patrol cars and the highly-reflective decals that announce "Police - City of Hawthorne" arrived this month.

If all goes as planned, Donadio said he hopes to advertise for the officer positions within another week or so. Shryock said the city has budgeted for 3.2 full-time officers which includes Donadio's $35,000-a-year salary and it will be up to the chief to decide how he divides that money between full-time and part-time officers.

"We anticipate using some part-time officers," Shryock said.

Before moving to Hawthorne a few weeks ago, Donadio was the police chief in Oneonta, N.Y., for 24 years a town he said is comparable in size to Palatka. He said the residents of Oneonta made it hard for him to leave and gave him a big going-away celebration. But he said he has always dreamed of living in Florida, so he couldn't be swayed from his decision to finally leave the town that had been his home for so long.

"In my mind, I'm already a Floridian," Donadio said with a grin, saying he has already been stocking up on pastel shirts for his relocation.

But because he has never worked as a law enforcement officer in Florida, Donadio will have to go through Florida's police academy to become a certified law enforcement officer in the state.

He had the option of going through a shortened, three-week version of the academy to learn the basics, but he decided to go for the full-fledged, six-month training course to make sure he knows Florida's laws front to back.

The training starts in May and will require a commitment Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"I know it's not going to be easy, but the people here have a lot of faith in me or else I wouldn't have been hired," Donadio said.

Shryock agreed that it might be tough to have Donadio tied up in training for six months, but it's something the city is willing to deal with.

"It will benefit us in the long run," he said. "We've got a top-notch candidate here. The more training he can get, the better. There's no reason why (the officers) can't do patrols while the chief's at the academy. Most police officers have the ability to work pretty independently."

To ease the transition for the department as a whole, Donadio said the city will be giving priority to officer candidates who already have experience in Alachua County when the department starts accepting applications. Since the department will have to work closely with the Alachua County jail, as well as the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and other area agencies, it would behoove the department to hire officers who are already familiar with the area.

And right away, Donadio said he wants the residents of Hawthorne to know he runs a tight ship.

"I know there's some concern out there about the integrity of the police operations," he said.

Since Hawthorne hasn't had a police department since the late 1960s and early 70s, Donadio said he has already heard from some area residents that they remember a "Mayberry" mentality being commonplace.

But Donadio said he will be taking into consideration "morals, ethics, character and those intangible things that you discover during background investigations" when hiring officers.

"When it comes to police business, I am very serious," he said.

In the meantime, Donadio said he is simply working to get to know the area and the people.

He said that so far, he has been met with nothing but graciousness and welcome from the residents of Hawthorne.

"They talk about Southern hospitality. Well, I see it firsthand here," he said.

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