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New South Fulton police chief wants to focus on community building

Keith Meadows doesn’t want to waste his time pushing his city of South Fulton officers to give out tickets.

The new police chief in the year-old city has more important issues to worry about. He has to decide where police precincts should go. He needs to aggressively recruit and retain police officers — there are 25 vacancies on his force, and he’d like to add as many as 38 more officers. And he wants to concentrate on helping to set the vision and the culture for a city.

Handing out tickets makes no sense when officers could be spending time identifying violent criminals in the community and arresting them, he said.

“I want policing to be intelligence-driven, as opposed to a zero-tolerance policy as it relates to crime,” said Meadows, who spent three years as College Park’s police chief.

Not that the city of nearly 100,000 people has a high violent crime rate, he said. Still, he wants to lower it further.

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Meadows said in addition to reducing crime, residents want him to help improve the quality of life in the city and engage with South Fulton’s youth, to keep them from getting involved in criminal behavior.

Tracy Rolle, a South Fulton resident, said she was excited for Meadows’ appointment — particularly his plan to focus on building community relationships.

“It can’t be he’s coming over here doing regular policing,” Rolle said. “We need more than that.”

Damita Chatman, another resident, said she’d like the 87-person police force to more than double in size. The force needs to be visible, she said, to help reduce crime.

Meadows said he wants officers to be seen as guardians of the city, not an occupying force. The former head of the homicide unit at the Atlanta Police Department, Meadows said he’s up for the challenge of leading police efforts in the nascent city. He wants to raise the starting officers’ salary to be among the highest paid in the region, he said, and work with the court system to keep offenders incarcerated.

“He’s doing some really cutting edge things,” said Khalid Kamau, a South Fulton councilman. “He has a wealth of experience.”

Meadows wasn’t the first person to be offered the job of police chief. In January, Mayor Bill Edwards hired Luther Lamar, assistant chief of police at Baton Rouge Community College and a 14-year veteran of the Fulton County police, for the job. But council members unanimously rejected his appointment. Sheila Rogers has served as interim chief since March, when the police department transitioned from Fulton County to the city.

Before Meadows’ hiring, all the leadership roles in the city’s criminal justice system were filled by women. It brought a lot of positive attention to the city.

“I look forward to the diversity and the strength that comes with that diversity,” Rolle said as the city welcomes Meadows.

The new chief said he’s looking forward to contributing to the community.

“Getting in on the ground floor, to be one of the pioneers of the city, is really appealing to me,” he said. “The south region, I think it gets a bad rap. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth here. It’s a hidden gem in this region.”

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