The state of policing in America is facing a “difficult time” in the aftermath of numerous controversial fatal shootings by white officers of black men that has catalyzed activists to take to the streets to protest.
The police shootings of black men, that have been broadcast over the internet thanks to social media and led to the founding of the Black Lives Matter Movement, have also led to a black armed vigilante shooting and killing five police officers in Dallas and another black man to kill three police officers in Baton Rouge.
“We’re in a difficult time,” said Atlanta Police Chief George Turner at the Aug. 18 Buckhead Business Association’s State of Public Safety luncheon.
“It’s challenging to recruit … with what is going on in the national scene,” Turner said to a packed crowd at 103 West.
The panel discussion included the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Atlanta Division, J. Britt Johnson, and was facilitated by Dave Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation
“It’s not [hard to recruit] because of the work,” Turner said. “But the challenge is changing the narrative of the work we’re doing. It really requires all of us to do that.”
Turner said the department is looking to more aggressive ways to recruit and as part of that trying to identify ways of “what motivates a millennial,” he said to some laughter.
“They [millennials] want to be involved in something to make a difference … come to the APD and be the change you want to see,” Turner said.
Turner challenged residents to speak out and “push back” people who generalize that all police are violent.
Turner also mentioned the need to get guns out of the hands of criminals.
“If you look at the kind of violence we are seeing, we have to find a way to deal with these weapons on the streets,” he said. “We see multiple gunshots, guns that can shoot 50 rounds.”
Turner is advocating for “smart guns,” guns that only allow the owner to pull the trigger. Smart guns utilize technology such as fingerprint recognition, mechanical locks or radio-frequency identification chips to ensure only the owner can shoot the weapon.
“We’re talking about smart guns and bringing them into our department,” he said.
Turner talked briefly of the recent BLM protests with thousands of people marching in the city’s streets, including in Buckhead to the governor’s mansion, to protest police killings of black men.
He said Operation Shield – the city’s surveillance camera system that gives police access to some 7,500 cameras throughout Atlanta – was utilized to watch protesters and send in officers directly to locations where they believed violence or other trouble was occurring.
“During the protests, we were able to be discreet. Police through the use of CCTV [closed-circuit TV] were able to deploy officers in an effective manner,” he said.
Turner was questioned about the “Ferguson effect,” a term coined after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 that led to multiple protests. The St. Louis police chief argued that increased scrutiny on police led officers to be hesitant to perform their duties, leading to an increase in crime and homicides.
Turner denied that was taking place in Atlanta.
“This city has one of the most extensively trained departments in the nation,” he said. That training includes 22 weeks in the academy and 12 weeks in the field.
“We make sure our officers are prepared to police in an urban environment,” Turner said. “Perhaps in areas we are seeing some pushback but we are not seeing officers being soft on crime.”
The APD has partnered with the Georgia’s office of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill implemented to train officers on Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) that is designed to educate police officers on how to recognize those with mental illness and how to respond appropriately.
Britt of the FBI said his agency is there to help all local police departments in these difficult times, as Turner said, by monitoring social media, providing intelligence and gathering names of “bad actors” of those likely to provoke violence to local law enforcement.