Sep. 3—VALDOSTA — Leslie Manahan arrived in Valdosta in the early 1990s to attend Valdosta State College.
After graduating with a degree in education, Manahan found herself in love with the Valdosta community but not in love with the profession of education.
"I didn't feel my heart was in education," Manahan said. "I began to check things off the list. ... I had the desire to serve and give back."
She attended orientation for the Valdosta Police Department and began as a patrol officer. Now, 25 years later, she serves as the first female chief of the police department.
"I'm very proud to be in this position, and I think the fact that I started as a patrol officer has allowed me to be in the community," Manahan said. "I feel I have a great touch. I love our community."
Though Manahan went to college to become an educator, she said law enforcement is her dream job.
"The journey has been eventful and rewarding. Every day is a new day but I have had the opportunity to meet incredible people in this job," Manahan said. "Every job I have had at the police department has been my dream job."
In 2011, Manahan attended the Federal Bureau of Investigation at Quantico. She holds this as one of her greatest accomplishments as an officer.
Manahan said, "I was very apprehensive at first but that's probably one of the best experiences I've had." She continued with a joke, "Though it is nothing like the TV show. I was sharing a living space with three other women and didn't have steaks in the cafeteria."
Manahan attributes her success as chief to the officers who serve at VPD. She said she is proud of the connection to and support from the community.
"We are really involved in the community through local schools and organizations. I am most excited about the success of our neighborhood walks — we actually come up to your door and we are in your comfort zone. Partnering with Citizens Against Violence," Manahan said. "We enjoy being involved in the community, with the end of the year meet and greets, school visits letting children know that police officers are approachable."
For the last 15 years, Manahan has been on call for 24 hours, seven days a week. However, she said the hardest part is taking time for yourself, friends and family.
Manahan said, "I stress to new officers that we are a huge family at VPD but you have a family at home. If you don't take time to enjoy them, those days will be gone."
She said the loss of her friend, a former officer, taught her the importance of taking time and relaxing.
In her free time, Manahan said she likes to do outdoor activities, such as kayaking, and spending time with her friends and family and being with her dogs.
"The biggest thing I can say, as the first female commander in chief, is that if you want something, It's achievable. Have the confidence to go get what you want," she said. "My legacy is to be proud of the accomplishments of our department as we continue to protect and service the community."