APS swears in new kinder, gentler police force

Sixty-eight members of a new Atlanta Public Schools police force were sworn in Thursday as part of what district officials called a new era in school safety.

The new force, which replaces the Atlanta Police Department officers who used to patrol Atlanta schools, is intended to be a kinder, gentler presence in schools.

“Love our kids like you would love your own,” school board chairman Courtney English told the officers.

The officers are armed and trained like other Georgia law enforcement officers, but receive extra training in how to work with children. They’ll be expected to serve as “role models, mentors and caregivers,” Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said. The officers will be assigned to Atlanta middle and high schools.

Carstarphen said she hopes the new police force will prevent Atlanta students, particularly “black and brown” students from low-income families, from getting involved in the criminal justice system.

“I don’t want them to fear the police,” she said. “I want them to respect the authority the job brings.”

Although the Atlanta school district's security division received formal state recognition to operate as a law enforcement agency in 2004, city police officers have provided most school security services for years. The district ended its security contract with the city this spring.

Ronald Applin, an Atlanta Public Schools graduate and former captain in the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department, will serve as the district’s new police chief.

Most other local school districts, including Gwinnett, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties already have their own police departments.

The swearing in of the new force comes days after the Atlanta school district revealed in response to questions from reporters that its security department had not tracked the guns it purchased in past years.

The district has located 108 Glock handguns for which it has purchase records, but may never know if it owned other guns or where those guns are today, Carstarphen said earlier this week. Marquenta Sands Hall, who supervised district security in past years, has been promoted to oversee the new police department and other district security operations. The district continues to investigate the issue, Carstarphen said.