Back in 2006, Mike Booker became Decatur’s Police Chief and implemented a new vision centered around the motto, “Enforcing a Higher Standard” which set departmental expectations of what would and would not be acceptable. However, in 2015 Chief Booker realized that while his vision was a good one, he had decided what the community needed from its police department rather than asking the community what they wanted. As a result, the community had no buy-in or inherent understanding of the police department culture. Claims of racial profiling had been voiced at City Commission meetings, and neighbors calling to report “suspicious persons” walking down the street simply because they looked different, became more frequent.
Because of these complaints and community concerns, Chief Booker instead began asking, “Are we meeting the community’s needs?”
In 2015, the Decatur Police Department began an effort to reform the way they do policing, dovetailing this work with the Better Together Initiative and work to improve racial equity. The process, which involved extensive community outreach and guidance, has led to community policing being embedded in the Decatur Police department’s culture.
The Decatur Police Department hired a consultant to help with the process of reaching out to a cross section of various stakeholders and held 24 individual focus groups with the intention of gathering information as to the desired vision and direction of the Decatur Police Department.
Focus groups each consisted of approximately 10-15 diverse stakeholders including those who had filed complaints of racial profiling, seniors, educators, teens, staff from other city departments, police employees, businesses, restaurant and shop owners, graduates of the Citizens Police Academy and other training programs, Housing Authority residents, members of the Better Together Leadership Circle, elected officials and more.
Chief Booker attended all of the focus groups to welcome the stakeholders and explain the process, and then left the room so the consultants could gather information around the questions, “What are the police doing well? What needs to be improved? What would you like to see the police doing in the future?” The consultants helped drill down the comments into common themes and shared the results with the police core planning team made up of the top command staff. The core planning team said that while listening with an open ear, not being defensive, and not taking the comments personally was difficult at first, the comments were “valid,” “will help us grow as an agency,” and “gave us the answers to what matters most.” Deputy Police Chief Scott Richards noted one difference in asking the community versus doing an internal strategic plan as they had done in the past, “We would have focused on ways of dealing with crime, and the community said they wanted more community policing and to know what we were doing.”
The resulting three-year Departmental Strategic Plan outlines an ambitious and challenging strategy to serve the community in the way that best addresses their concerns and needs. The biggest change is reflected in the way police officers now describe their role as “Community Relations Officers Who Enforce the Law.”
Mission: To be open and responsive to the needs of the entire community and solve problems through community relationships, innovative technology, and exceptional service.
Vision: Police and community uniting to make a safe and thriving city.
The core strategies identified in the plan include:
Implementation of the department’s strategic plan includes the use of social media platforms, including Nextdoor.com and Facebook, as a means of staying in touch with the community. Training is another focus area, with new programs to train police officers in working with people of color, the mentally ill, families in crisis and the general public in a manner that shows understanding and respect. Training programs for the community are also included, with a Citizens Police Academy, self-defense classes, kids’ programs and other activities aimed at improving mutual respect and understanding between residents and the department.
Timeline of Project: Since 2015
Initiator: City of Decatur Police Department
Decatur Police Department, Community Programs Website
Decatur, GA – 2018 AAC Winner: Presentation
Lt. Jennifer Ross
City of Decatur Police Department