In response to my recent encounter with Cobb police I called for creation of a Citizen Review Board.
It is one of several approaches that can lessen recurrence of questionable interactions with police. Other efforts like community policing, diversifying the police force and its leadership, expanding training to promote cultural sensitivity, educating citizens on police practices, outfitting all officers and police vehicles with cameras, and regularly assessing and communicating crime trend data, are just some of the additional measures which should also be considered.
Simultaneously, Cobb should ensure adequate pay and support of police officers in recognition of the unique risk they face in serving. Since entering office, I have been an advocate for public safety and all public employees who tirelessly serve Cobb communities amidst an overpowering rhetoric that mocks persons committed to public service. In Cobb, as in many governments, disdain towards public service is exacerbated by lagging funds for salaries and budgets, even when such funding could directly improve the conditions of which so many complain.
This need for balance in support for those who serve and also for those who are served is a critical element of sound democracy that fundamentally lies on a foundation of trust. Those who serve must be able to trust that they are in a climate that facilitates their ability to best serve. Also, those served must be able to trust that those who serve them are best able to do so.
The reality in Cobb is that we’ve had shortcomings on both sides — in supporting our officers and in serving our vulnerable communities and populations historically associated with crime. While Cobb is making significant inroads in improving the resources of our police officers, is now the time to turn our backs towards citizens who for decades complained of imbalance of treatment?
Insinuations that Cobb County stands for “Count on Being Busted,” “Come on Black Boy” and other nicknames too volatile to mention did not start with my incident, but they can wane with me.
Admittedly, I fell short in understanding the vulnerability of persons who brought complaint to my office with respect to Cobb Police, in part due to the great relationship I had with Public Safety. Today, I hear men and women, young and old, of diverse race and income recount their stories and I get it.
A blessing of my encounter is to now be better calibrated to speak to the unspeakable expectation of balance in service that had been desired by many, especially the marginalized — whether they be citizens, communities, or even public service employees, for whom I am now pushing to get a 3 percent merit increase in our next budget.
To deny credibility of the concerns of either entity is to continue to foster an environment of distrust, which is the greatest threat to any democracy, including Cobb’s.
Cobb has unique opportunity to showcase that we are moving forward and not behind; that we are open and not closed, and that we “Can” when others can’t in considering a Citizen Review Board.
It is just one step Cobb can take to showcase transparency and better usher in the growth in business, population, and diversity that already has been, and is, at our door.
To mock, undermine, or disregard such opportunity—especially in light of the publicity of what happened to me, a sitting commissioner—is not only unwise, but revealing of a great inability to see our citizens’ lives, Cobb’s opportunities for advancement, our future, our hope, and most urgently the public trust is at stake.
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Lisa Cupid is a Cobb County commissioner.