As law enforcement officers face scrutiny nationwide for a series of shootings, DeKalb County Public Safety Director Cedric Alexander says he favors police making body camera videos available to the public and posting use-of-force information online.
Alexander said Thursday that greater transparency would help dispel some of the tension between wary residents and officers sworn to protect them.
In addition, departments should require more intensive training, stronger community outreach and greater openness, he said.
“Kicking ass and taking names is not what reduces crime,” Alexander told reporters and editors for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during an interview Thursday. “What reduces crime in this country is having relationships with people who live in communities.”
That means police have to respond to increasing demands from the public for more information, he said.
At the same time, they are risking their lives and making split-second decisions in stressful situations involving victims, bystanders and criminals.
“You have a whole niche that now is looking at police with a jaundiced eye,” he said. “It was the American people rising up and saying something is wrong, something is broken.”
Alexander became a national voice on policing in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. He was the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives at the time and frequently appeared on cable news channels.
At home in DeKalb, he has dealt with several fatal shootings by officers, including those involving Anthony Hill, who was naked and unarmed, and Kevin Davis, who was shot in his apartment after he called 911 for help when his girlfriend was stabbed by a roommate.
Officer Robert Olsen is awaiting trial after he was indicted for the killing of Hill this year; no charges were brought against Officer Joseph Pitts, who said he twice ordered Davis to drop a firearm he was carrying.
An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News last year showed that, of more than 180 fatal shootings over six years by police officers in Georgia, none had resulted in criminal charges against the officer.
Alexander said he plans to publish on the police website the number of shootings involving police and the number of people shot and killed.
“We’re not going to tap dance around. We’re going to pull the data, and we’re going to deliver it to you,” he said. “That’s something that needs to be put on the website so any citizen can look at it anytime. It’s going to happen here.”
He also said he’ll push to make public video from police body cameras, especially when there are concerns about shootings.
“I’m going to always be about releasing it because the public is going to want to know, especially if there’s a shooting that’s somehow questionable,” Alexander said. “We’ve got to be more open. … We’ve got to be more transparent, and we’ve got to be able to do things that historically we have not done in the past.”
Officers are now going through more training to prepare them for unexpected situations.
After the Hill shooting, officers were required to complete 40 hours of training on how to deal with people with possible mental health issues. Previously, they had to undergo only four hours of that training.
Police are also receiving critical incident training and learning how to better de-escalate confrontations.
“People are asking for more visibility and accountability. That is something we have to be able to do,” Alexander said. “Every opportunity I have to be transparent is an opportunity to garner a stronger relationship with the community.”
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