The Canton Police Department will be searching for a new chief as Chief Mark Mitchell officially stepped down from his post Friday.

Having served with the Canton Police Department for the past six years, Mitchell was recently appointed to serve as chief of staff for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Services, according to officials with the police department.

The police department held a ceremony Friday at noon in the municipal courtroom at department headquarters, with control of the department handed over to Deputy Chief Stephen Merrifield, who will serve as interim chief. Friday's event came after Mitchell and his service were recognized Thursday evening with a reception in the auditorium of city hall.

“This was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make,” Mitchell said during Thursday’s reception event. “I can’t thank everyone enough. I want to thank you all for the chance you took on me.”

In a prepared statement shared with officers throughout the department, he said, “I am grateful, blessed, honored and humbled to call each of you my friend and for the awesome opportunity to be part of a team dedicated and committed to serving with an attitude of service, mindset of community and heart of protection.”

During his time as chief, Mitchell said he may have come up with a multitude of ideas for ways the department could improve what it does, but he credited its success to all of the men and women within the department. He also said the connections, partnerships and relationships the department has built up is a model for others to emulate, and that every officer should be proud of that.

“The support we get from the community is big,” Mitchell said. “We have the most supportive community.”

City officials said they are confident in handing the reins over to Merrifield.

“Deputy Chief Merrifield, he knows the heart of the officers and of the department,” City Manager Billy Peppers said in his opening remarks Friday. “We have a top-notch police department.”

Before pinning the chief’s badge on Merrifield, Mitchell said there was nobody he would rather pin it on.

After receiving the chief’s badge, Merrifield thanked Mitchell for hiring him and giving him the opportunity to serve the citizens of Canton as part of its police department. Merrifield said he knew he had really big shoes to fill, and thanked Mitchell, Peppers and the Canton City Council for having the confidence in him to serve in this role, as well as all the other officers of the department for their support.

“I know there’s always some uncertainty with change, but my promise to you is, we’re going to stay on the same path,” Merrifield said.

Joining the city of Canton to honor Mitchell at Thursday’s reception were law enforcement officials from Woodstock, Holly Springs, Ball Ground, the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad and the Cherokee County School District Police Department.

Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood said Mitchell has done a tremendous job as police chief, and because of his leadership and integrity, the city never had to worry about what was going on in the department.

“He is one of the most honest people in law enforcement,” Woodstock Police Department Chief Calvin Moss said of Mitchell. “I appreciate your friendship.”

Sheriff Frank Reynolds added, “I appreciate the friendship and partnership we have had. We can’t say enough about what you’ve done.”

As part of the recognition given by the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, Reynolds presented Mitchell with a Meritorious Service Medal.

Former city manager Glen Cummins said hiring Mitchell was one of the best decisions he ever made.

“I appreciate the opportunity to have worked with you,” Cummins said.

Merrifield had nothing but positive things to say about Mitchell.

“His mantra is that we will not be stagnant, we will always be moving forward,” Merrifield said. “His philosophy is that every one of us is a leader, no matter what rank we may hold.”

Following both Thursday’s reception and Friday’s ceremony, a long line of citizens formed to wish Mitchell well as he moves on to the next chapter in his life.

“This has truly been an awesome experience,” Mitchell said

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