Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat is forming a “crime-suppression” unit of deputies he has dubbed the “Scorpion Team” with the intent of working alongside police patrols in Atlanta, Sandy Springs and all other cities in the county.
Named for the stinger-tailed, venomous predator, the Scorpion Team appears to be the latest version of Labat’s campaign promise — especially popular in Buckhead — to use deputies to bolster Atlanta Police Department patrols amid a surge in violent crime. The notion of deputies patrolling city streets has gotten a mixed response among Fulton County Board of Commissioners members, and the details remain scarce. APD would not answer questions about its involvement in the Scorpion Team, while the Sandy Springs Police Department (SSPD) said it is awaiting more information before deciding to participate.
“That crime suppression team, which will be tagged or named the Scorpion Team, will go out on a daily basis and search for those who mean us no good,” Labat said in a brief mention of the idea at a March 11 Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting. “… The best way for me to put it is, we’re going to stalk the stalkers.”
Jamille Bradfield, a Fulton County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, later gave some more details of the Scorpion Team, though not which agencies are involved and what the timeline might be.
“The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office has established a Crime Suppression Team, known as the Scorpion Team, to work the streets throughout the 15 cities within Fulton County,” Bradfield said in an email. “The Scorpion Team is part of the new, specialized Violent Crime/Gang Task Force we are in the process of building to address violence.”
As for the name, FCSO focused on the scorpion’s defensive use of its stinger rather than its prey-poisoning utility.
“We call it the Scorpion Team because, similar to the scorpion in the arthropod species that stings its predators when it is threatened, our crime suppression team is defending those who live, work and play in Fulton County against violent criminals who threaten public safety,” said Bradfield.
In response to a comment request from APD, spokesperson Sgt. John Chaffee said only, “The FCSO would be the best resource for information on this. Please check with them for additional details regarding the Scorpion Team.” He did not respond to further questions about APD involvement. The city’s press office did not respond to questions.
The police department in Sandy Springs is aware of the proposal, but hasn’t signed on, according to SSPD spokesperson Sgt. Salvador Ortega.
“Yes, the task force has been a topic during meetings at the Sheriff’s Office with Fulton County chiefs; however, details are not finalized,” said Ortega in an email.
SSPD is already involved in some federal task forces focused on gangs and violent crime, Ortega said. “At this time, I don’t have specific information about the FCSO’s task force,” he said. “It is the mission of the Sandy Springs Police Department to enforce the law and prevent crime through problem-solving partnerships. If the mission and partnership of this task force aligns with our mission and doesn’t compromise manpower, I’m sure it is something we will be happy to participate in.”
Labat’s main focus at the BCN meeting was on his version of a longstanding proposal for Fulton County to acquire the Atlanta City Detention Center, which he once supervised and which Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is in the midst of converting into a mixed-use social services facility. That’s because staffing and operating the county jail is FCSO’s main job, along with providing security at courts and serving warrants. Deputies sometimes provide help for other agencies in emergencies and large events, but they don’t patrol city streets.
The idea of FCSO patrols came amid talk of dwindling APD forces after last year’s crime increase, racial justice protests and controversy over the police killing of Rayshard Brooks. Labat won election last year with the patrols as part of a tough-on-crime platform, but quickly complained of pushback from commissioners and county staff. Part of that reaction was based on the idea of serving Atlanta versus the rest of the county.
“It’s news to me that anybody doesn’t want these patrols,” said Commissioner Lee Morris, who represents much of Buckhead, in January in response to Labat’s complaints. “Most everybody’s who’s contacted me wants more sworn officers of any kind.”
But that same month, Board of Commissioners Chairman Robb Pitts, a Buckhead resident, questioned the focus of the patrol idea. “I have heard that he made some campaign promises about putting more sheriff’s deputies on the street,” he said. “In theory, that sounds good. But his primary responsibility is the jail and we have issues at the jail.”
Commissioner Bob Ellis, whose North Fulton district includes part of Sandy Springs, said this month that the Scorpion Team idea is “news to me” and raises similar concerns. “I have not had a single resident in a North Fulton city suggest to me it would be a great idea to have the Fulton sheriff supplement our local patrols,” said Ellis, adding it likely would be viewed as duplicating services and raises issues of funding and intergovernmental legal agreements.
“I’m fully aware of all the crime issues and concerns going on in the city of Atlanta… I think long-term, the solution to that needs to come from the city of Atlanta for that, and the Atlanta Police Department,” said Ellis. Law enforcement agencies assisting each other short-term is good, he said. “But this notion of the Fulton County sheriff’s department becoming an additional police department within each particular city doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of long-term sense to me. It may actually sort of deviate from what our actual delivery strategy is.”