As Brookhaven Police Lt. Brandon Gurley came to a stop at a red light on Peachtree Road, the driver of an SUV pulled up next to him, honked the horn, and enthusiastically gave him two thumbs up.
Gurley smiled. He’d been getting similar responses all day.
“They’re happy to see us and we’re definitely glad to be here,” Gurley said.
On July 31, Brookhaven officially launched its police department. And it was easy for the public to see – the muscular Ford interceptors with Brookhaven’s logo were all over the main roads within the city’s 12 square miles.
Gurley’s patrol car, straight from the factory, held the pleasant, leathery fragrance of a brand new car, and a manufacturer’s tag still hung from the glove compartment. It came equipped with a laptop, radio and GPS unit for officers to monitor 911 calls and communicate with each other.
Gurley said the cars and equipment arrived just in time. Brookhaven’s 54 police officers spent the 2 1/2 weeks prior to the launch date training and familiarizing themselves with the city.
Driving along Buford Highway, Gurley heard a call over the radio from an apartment complex nearby. He decided to see if the officers needed backup. Still learning the Brookhaven streets, Gurley passed the building at first, and made a U-turn to circle back. When another patrol car made the same U-turn, he realized he was being followed to the scene.
There were already several police cars in the parking lot. Several more soon pulled up. In all, eight cars responded to the call. Gurley said a man called police after a woman pepper sprayed him during an argument. He coughed slightly from the lingering odor of pepper spray as he walked back to his police car.
Residents of the apartment building looked perplexed by the swarm of cops. “We’re running strong because it’s our first day today,” Gurley said.
Gurley said it won’t be normal for that many officers to respond at once. But he said residents will be seeing a bigger law enforcement presence than they’re used to. He said response times will improve as well.
“It’s going to be a noticeable difference to the residents,” Gurley said. “It’s not a knock against DeKalb. They were just spread thin.”
Among those who exited the police cars was Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis, who was riding along with an officer. The mayor chatted with resident Scott Davis about the launch of the city’s police department. Scott Davis, who’s not related to the mayor, said he’d been keeping up with the development of the new city, and seemed pleased with the idea of a new police force.
“I like it,” he said. “I just hope they don’t pull me over next time I let my tag expire two days after my birthday.”
As day watch commander for the Brookhaven Police Department, Gurley supervises all the officers patrolling the city during the day. He said his duties keep him partly in the office, doing administrative work, and partly in the field, backing up officers on calls.
Gurley worked for the Sandy Springs Police Department for a year and a half before coming to Brookhaven. He spent the majority of his career, 14 years, with the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office. Gurley said he knows from his background as a sheriff’s deputy that county law enforcement agencies can have greater areas to patrol, and often have more calls to respond to than city agencies.
In addition to his day watch command duties, Gurley serves as the Brookhaven Police Department’s Public Information Officer. It’s a job he’s used to. He was the full-time PIO in Paulding County for four years. He said he had a lot of success promoting the agency through social networking platforms like Twitter.
“Social networking is a way for us to get our message out immediately to the public,” Gurley said. “It’s a way for us to push information out without having to have the media push it out for us.”
On the road near the intersection of Buford Highway and Clairmont Road, a white Chevrolet ran through a yellow light as it turned red. Gurley stopped, mid-sentence, and put on his lights and sirens. He sped up to catch the car, and the driver pulled over into a drugstore parking lot.
Gurley gave the driver a verbal warning and got back into his patrol car. The officer explained that he feels he can often correct bad behavior without writing tickets.
“It’s not a revenue generator like everybody likes to claim. It’s to make the road safer,” Gurley said. “I feel like I can do that with a warning.”
Gurley pulled a laminated card from the visor to check the call signals before radioing in to dispatch. He said every department is different, and he’s still getting used to the DeKalb County call signals. Dispatchers have agreed to say the signal, and then follow it with plain speech to help the new Brookhaven officers get acquainted.
Gurley said the new police officers have been working at a whirlwind pace to get the department up and running this summer. He said starting a department from the ground up has been an interesting challenge.
“I walked in with a laptop and a cellphone. The cars had been ordered. That’s it,” Gurley said.
He’s worked 12-15 hours a day, sometimes six days a week, to prepare for the July 31 launch.
He said his former colleagues in Sandy Springs prepared him for the challenge of starting a new department. “They all told me you will be so thankful you had this opportunity, but you won’t want to do it again,” Gurley said.
“This, to me, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To look back and say ‘I did that,’ is something I will be able to take pride in.”