Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed acknowledged on Thursday there are people who think the police department has breached the public’s trust.
Introducing his three police chief candidates at a town hall meeting, he made a public pledge to change that perception under his administration.
“We are in the process of repairing that breach,” Reed said.
With that, the three men who want to be the Atlanta Police Department’s next chief -- Cedric L. Alexander, George N. Turner and Robert Crump White -- introduced themselves to the city.
For 90 minutes, each of the three panelists answered questions from moderators and citizens about their plans for the APD, addressing issues such as officer retention, drug dealing, review panels and 911 responses. In the end, there didn't appear to be a clear-cut leader.
“They all look strong on paper but that is different from standing in front of 200 people,” Reed said.
Reed said he would make his decision on all of his cabinet positions within 10-12 days. He said Thursday’s town hall meeting would help him pick a chief.
Alexander, director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, gave an impressive presentation.
Turner, APD interim chief, had the hometown advantage, easily referring to what the department is currently doing and what he has done as chief.
Robert Crump White, chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department, scored points with the audience by stressing community policing and involvement.
“The APD, from the outside looking in, is a very good police department,” Alexander said. “I want to come in and make an assessment as to what we need to do. Secondly, I want to establish a relationship. If I am your chief, I need to be your chief.”
Turner said he has the advantage of having five months of on-the-job training.
“I think we are doing a great job,” said Turner, who has been with APD for 28 years. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t talk to an officer who says we are doing great things.”
White, whose Louisville reputation was made in community policing, said he would spend his early days listening to people.
On gangs, blamed for the uptick in violent crimes and smash-and-grab incidents, each candidate saidthey are the result of something lacking in a community.
Alexander said that absence has to be replaced with something such as community centers that stay open year-round.
“It is the basic fundamental needs of people that are not being met,” Alexander said.
Turner said APD has to collaborate with “partner communities to give young people something sustainable that they can hold on to.”
White, who said he was raised by a single mother in Washington, D.C., around gangs, added a tough caveat: “I don’t accept illegal activity by anybody because of their circumstances.”
On prostitution, Turner said the APD has arrested 400 people seeking sex this year and is partnering with the GBI to be more effective in addressing prostitution on the Internet.
White said a deterrent in reducing Louisville prostitution was calling the wives of the men arrested and confiscating their cars.
The APD has one of the worst track records in the nation in officer retention, and Turner said the major reason was pay.
“We lose officers who have two and five years [experience] at a critical time; when that officer is just learning how to be a police officer," Turner said. "And pay is the No. 1 reason.”
White said his Louisville department is considered a desirable place to work. “What attracts officers and keeps them there is the pride they have in their department," White said. "We are a flagship agency and members are proud to be there. Officers feel relatively respected. They have equipment and they have input in what we do.”
Alexander said pay is not always the reason officers leave jobs; it's also a feeling of self worth that drives them away.
“We can never pay them enough,” he said. “People leave because they don’t feel valued, because they feel minimized and marginalized and not one cares for them. That is why people leave organizations.”
After the town hall meeting, each of the candidates gathered by the stage and greeted people. Citizens alternately said it was Turner’s time to be chief, Alexander was the most cosmopolitan and White had the most experience.
“I hope I conveyed the diversity of my background,” Alexander said. “That is important in a city as diverse as Atlanta.”
White said he wanted the audience to understand where he stands on policy.
“Long-term success is going to rely on the police department and the 500,000 people in Atlanta working together,” White said.
Turner said the town hall meeting proved that it is no time for Atlanta to take a step back, to start over and have a chief adjust to the city.
“I thought this was a great opportunity to express my opinions and show what I have done in moving the police department forward,” Turner said. “We cannot afford to move back for a person who has to learn about the city.”
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