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Defunding the police ‘not an option,’ DeKalb public safety head says

DeKalb County Public Safety Director Jack Lumpkin speaks during the town hall panel event.
DeKalb County Public Safety Director Jack Lumpkin speaks during the town hall panel event.

Credit: Screenshot via DeKalb County

Credit: Screenshot via DeKalb County

Speakers at a panel discussion in DeKalb County on Monday night agreed that police systems around the country need to change. But two of DeKalb’s top public safety officials said defunding the police is not the answer.

Public Safety Director Jack Lumpkin, however, said he was in support of “reimagining” the way police interact with the community.

The town hall panel, organized by DeKalb County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, focused on policing and community relations. It featured a who's who of DeKalb County leadership and law enforcement: CEO Michael Thurmond, police Chief Mirtha Ramos, Sheriff Melody Maddox, District Attorney Sherry Boston, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson and Lumpkin.

It also included prominent community activists and leaders, Georgia NAACP President James Woodall and civil rights attorney Mawuli Davis.

Amid widespread protests against racism following the deaths of Black men at the hands of police, the speakers acknowledged systemic racism and its impact on the criminal justice system. They said they were confident in DeKalb's leadership and policies surrounding police, but still supported larger, systemic changes to shift the culture of policing.

From left, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson and DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond.
From left, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson and DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond.

Credit: Screenshot via DeKalb County

Credit: Screenshot via DeKalb County

Ramos said she understands “there need to be changes. We’re ready to make changes. But defunding is not the answer.” Lumpkin said defunding the police was “not an option,” but he acknowledged that public safety officials across the nation “have to do things differently.”

Davis and Rep. Johnson, though, pointed out that the recent calls to "defund police" do not necessarily mean eliminating police departments altogether. Rather, many activists have called on local governments to shift public funds from law enforcement agencies to social services.

Davis urged the county officials to examine “what percentage of our budget is used in police that can be moved toward preventative measures to help our young people stay out of the criminal justice system.”

Just 10 days after Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by an Atlanta police officer, Johnson defended Fulton County DA Paul Howard's handling of the case, despite the criticism Howard has received.

“When the district attorney had the gall to bring charges against the police officers involved, he was then castigated for acting too quickly, even though he's got clear evidence,” the congressman said.

Johnson also mentioned the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives and would make it easier to hold police accountable in criminal and civil cases. DA Boston did not directly address the Brooks case.

Ramos said the police department’s policies do not allow using chokeholds to detain people.

The department does not ban no-knock arrest warrants, Ramos said. Louisville police obtained a no-knock warrant before officers shot Breonna Taylor in her home in March, killing her.

But Ramos said of the 456 warrants served by DeKalb officers in 2019, only two were no-knock warrants.

“We really don't utilize it or take advantage of it,” the chief said.

The panelists agreed that the discussions need to continue. Thurmond said the county is “not perfect” and still evolving.

“Even here in DeKalb County, (with) all these amazing leaders of color,” Boston said, “we are not done with all of the work we need to do.”

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