The relationship between police departments and civilians is in a local and national spotlight. Huge protests followed the controversial police killings earlier this month of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota.
Meanwhile, gunmen mass-murdered police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Reporter Newspapers asked the four local police chiefs in our communities how their forces are reacting to the event in Dallas—the Baton Rouge incident had not happened yet—and what training their departments use to keep routine interactions between officers and the public from escalating into shootings.
Chief George Turner
Atlanta Police Department
The recent murder of five Dallas police officers sent shockwaves through the Atlanta Police Department (APD). The mass shooting put officers on notice that they too can become a target. Members of the law enforcement community share a bond that reaches beyond our city and state borders. When one of us is affected in this manner, it affects all of us. Our Employee Assistance Program and Chaplaincy Unit are available to assess the mental and emotional well-being of our officers.
Every day we leave our respective homes, not knowing if we will return. Each member of the Atlanta Police Department has accepted the responsibility to protect and serve the city of Atlanta with integrity and dignity. The risks associated with being a police officer are heightened during times like these, which makes our officers more vigilant while reinforcing our commitment to our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with Chief David Brown and the Dallas Police Department.
In an effort to promote positive interactions among officers and citizens, APD has made community policing a priority. The Atlanta Police Department is one of the most progressive and diverse police departments. We are aware that the department mirrors the communities we serve. We actively communicate and connect with citizens; therefore, we are meeting and strategizing with community leaders to address their concerns and develop the right type of response. The Atlanta Police Department is one of 15 law enforcement agencies in the nation to be recognized for implementing the 21st Century Policing methods. We obtained a model city designation for our efforts to implement and follow the 59 recommendations set in place by President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. We have taken on a guardian mindset to continue to build trust and nurture relationships.
The Atlanta Police Department already provides professional development and continuing education training for officers who are actively serving.
In an effort to put the best officers on the streets, Atlanta Police recruits receive over 22 weeks of academy-based training; more than double the 10 weeks and a day mandated by the state of Georgia, and 12 weeks of field training. Atlanta police recruits and officers are the most extensively trained police officers in the state.
The training provided helps our officers to properly identify and avoid situations from escalating into shootings.
Training received by Atlanta police officers includes: interpersonal communication/cultural awareness; control tactics/less than lethal weapons; crisis intervention; LGBT awareness; cultural diversity; and bias-based profiling.
Chief Gary Yandura
Brookhaven Police Department
All the officers are more cautious when responding to calls. We are sending at least two officers out on more serious calls. Officers are now prone to back each other up on traffic stops.
The recent police killings have not hurt department morale because most of the officers wouldn’t have taken the job without knowing there are risks involved, and most officers enjoy their jobs. In some respects, the outpouring of community support we’ve received recently has actually strengthened department morale.
To prevent regular stops from escalating to violence, we are just using open communication—all of our officers are handling everything the same way they always have. We haven’t had any complaints; our officers are mindful of peoples’ rights and are courteous to people. A number of our officers have received a training called “Verbal Judo,” which is a method of verbal de-escalation, and we are going to continue to provide that.
More training was actually scheduled before the last the few incidents, but we continue to increase our training on dealing with mentally disturbed people through Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT). I’m serving on the state board of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The CIT training is a subsidiary of NAMI; we are trying to increase participation in NAMI throughout the state. I also just attended this past week the White House Advancing 21st Century Police Briefing, which emphasizes more cooperation and interaction with the community and promotes positive interactions through the use of social media.
Chief Billy Grogan
Dunwoody Police Department
The ambush and execution of five Dallas police officers and the assault of seven other officers with their department serves as a stark reminder of the dangers facing law enforcement today. Unfortunately, the reality of this danger struck close to home hours after the deadly shooting in Dallas when a Roswell police officer was shot at and a Valdosta police officer was shot in what has been described as an ambush. In spite of the dangers law enforcement faces today, Dunwoody police officers continue to provide professional service to the citizens of Dunwoody through fair and impartial policing. In spite of the numerous protests across the United States and the anti-police rhetoric on social media, Dunwoody police officers continue to build positive relationships with our community and maintain high morale.
The department has worked tirelessly to train our staff in how to de-escalate tense police encounters so the public and officers remain safe. This training has included role-playing “use of force” scenarios where the actions of the officer influences the response of the role-player. Additionally, over 50 percent of the department’s staff has attended Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which provides extensive training in how to respond to calls where someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. Our goal is to send 100 percent of our officers to CIT training. In the near future, we plan to provide Procedural Justice training for officers as well. Our officers are also equipped with several non-lethal force options like pepper spray and a Taser.
Of course, an important piece of having a professional police department that maintains a good relationship with the community is holding officers accountable. The Dunwoody Police Department reviews every use of force for policy compliance. Also, supervisors randomly review in-car video and body-worn camera video for policy compliance and training opportunities.
The Dunwoody Police Department operates in a transparent and open manner to foster a positive relationship with our community. We use social media to educate and inform and as a means to provide that transparency. As we all know, communication is the key to any successful relationship.
Chief Kenneth DeSimone
Sandy Springs Police Department
It is a challenging time for law enforcement. Our Sandy Springs police officers and their families understandably are concerned.
In meeting with our force, I remind them of the need to remain vigilant both in their normal police duties as well as when they are off duty and at home with their families. I advise them to remember their training and tactics learned, and to trust their instincts to stay safe in these most troubling of times.
The city has invested a great deal of time and resources into training that includes cultural diversity instruction as well as “shoot and don’t shoot” tactics. We constantly work with officers in developing discipline and restraint in the use of deadly force. This past week, SSPD opened its new training facility, expanding our capacity in developing these skills. Our department will open the use of this facility to other surrounding law enforcement agencies as well. We will continue to be proactive in our robust training programs.
We are very committed in the area of developing relationships within the community as evidenced through the driving and self-defense programs we offer, the Citizens on Patrol volunteer program, the neighborhood watch programs and more. The outpouring of support we’ve received from the community has been tremendous. We’ve received calls and letters; individuals and company representatives have dropped by headquarters to deliver meals and baked goods; and thousands have expressed their support via social media. That support is a source of comfort and is greatly appreciated by the men and women that serve Sandy Springs. We don’t take it for granted.
It will be some time before the confrontational atmosphere subsides. We also need to remain responsive to the community we serve. I am working closely with our command staff to make certain we take appropriate operational measures to ensure the continued safety of our officers as well as the members of the community. Our focus has been, and will continue to be, the safety of our officers and those in the community we serve.