When a bad character is about to discharge a gun, rob a store, burglarize a home or batter their spouse, we must be realistic about the necessity of police as a vigilant deterrent and as our public safety first responders. Criminals do not go on holiday when the police pull back. And we cannot expect the best efforts of the police if we do not support the well-intentioned public servants among their ranks.
Sir Robert Peel, the “father” of modern British policing, said “[t]he Police are paid to give full time attention to duties that are incumbent upon every citizen in the interest of community welfare and existence.” The same is true today. Here in Atlanta, the public and the police must see each other as being mutually responsible for the same goals.
As acknowledged in the Use of Force Advisory Council’s interim report, “[t]he APD in tandem with non-profit [organizations] ran ~70 unique community engagement initiatives in the past year to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community.” New efforts to reach out to the Black community are underway. Better resources to address issues like mental health and homelessness are long overdue. Where crime is high, so is police interaction with the community. Thriving neighborhoods are safe neighborhoods, where police activity is lessened. So we must commit ourselves to creating opportunity in communities of color, as a critical component of reform.
In police work, the possibility of injury or death is ever present. Like all of us, police officers are human and therefore imperfect. But none of that changes the fact that there can be no bad actors among the ranks of law enforcement who use force when they can rather than when they must. And so, it is time to honestly address any aspects of police culture, policies and law that lead to harm.
As we work on a new generation of progressive policies, we must be mindful of the messages that we are sending to the hundreds of Atlanta police officers who do right by us every day. Those good cops feel separated from us right now. If we do not find a way to repair their morale, we will be unable to recruit and retain the kind of officers we need in our great city.
Dennis G. Collard is a former police officer, practicing attorney and resident of Midtown Atlanta.