APD Series 6

A number of challenges in Georgia present themselves in Atlanta. People like to forget we’re all on the same team and often encounter the same things across municipalities. The Georgia Municipal Association does great work, yet the us vs them culture that’s embedded in the state is hard to overcome. I’m all for local control yet I also recognize standardization on a state level makes it easier for individuals within our workforce to move and move up, along with meeting the needs to better position our state globally. Barriers to entry are the grist in the mill of my mind, having not forgotten my own family’s origins in a mill village in Social Circle. I have this silly hope that kids growing up in Walton County today won’t have to relocate to Atlanta to find higher paying jobs or things that engage their brains like I did. My policy and professional work in education and volunteer service in spaces with individuals with cognitive and physical differences have made me aware of the need for connection across fields. Friends with different diagnoses have found incredibly rewarding careers (in both purpose and financial reward) when bridges have been built. I saw this bridge building opportunity in my next session of the Atlanta Citizens Police Academy as crystal clear as the waters of Hard Labor Creek, near where I grew up. 

The crime lab is located not far from my present home, off of Bankhead Hwy Donnell Lee Hollowell Pkwy. I’d been here before, for fingerprinting for something previously, but only skimmed the surface. It’s an unassuming building that is set off from the road in a way that one drives down a hill into the parking lot. Its full expanse can’t be easily seen from the road. One of my classmates remarked on the “funkiness” of the location (interesting way to describe poverty ridden areas). I pointed out that land is cheaper over here (thank redlining/ racism again) and if a city needs large amounts of land, it seems fiscally responsible to purchase it at the most affordable cost. We were greeted on the steps as we walked into the facility. 

Just as before with the VIC, we were divided into groups with one track going one way, then switching to another. 

“It’s just like the Ozark logos. May I take a picture?”

My husband and I are HUGE Ozark fans, and the “Mexican” villa of the drug cartel overlord is actually Westview Cemetery, down the street from our home. I LOVE getting to share the beauty of my state with others and try to support the shows filming around us and all the economic development they bring. Growing up in a small town with little creative outlet as a kid, I’m OVERWHELMINGLY grateful for the opportunities each of these filming projects bring to Georgia. They don’t just improve our economy, they give hope to kids like I used to be that they can grow up and have their talents appreciated, even if their small towns think they’re weird. 

Behind the logo was an amazingly empty lab, similar to the ghost-like small towns that dot our state. Our tour guide explained that the NAS Report of 2009 spurred the investment in this facility and in the APD. For additional background, here’s the Innocence Project’s paper on the lasting effects of this report on criminal investigations. Bottom-line, it moved criminal investigations from detective shoe leather to a highly advanced area of science that Atlanta doesn’t fully staff. This includes super high tech microscopes to chambers that can recreate shootings in a variety of ways. My Citizen’s Police Academy class began in processing, which was a cramped space that was closing in on those who worked there due to the lack of staff. The entire tour was given on our feet, with no actual presentation, so my notes are less dense here. That shouldn’t reflect upon the lab though- they are HIGHLY technical, and the space was really the highlight of the course for me, personally.

We learned that there is not only an incredibly large nationwide forensic policing lack, but the pay of some of these civilian force members is incredibly lacking- $30,000/ year, which is what I made in my first job out of undergrad with little to no experience in 2004. This isn’t because these folks aren’t well trained nor fully engaged in the work. 

Forensic work is an area I have some (super minor) knowledge of due to some connections in other jurisdictions. I have a friend who is trying to create a pipeline between school and medical examiners to ensure that there are future folks to fill needed roles in the metro area. This isn’t part of his job, he just sees how difficult it is to fully staff already and knows the challenge will grow without a changed process.

This lack of staff came up time and again across the course. What was painfully clear in each space was that there are civilian jobs that could be filled by folks that just aren’t. While I think the conclusion I was supposed to draw from this was a need for increased salary (not debating that), I would also question how much background searches in the application process preclude previously incarcerated or adjudicated youth impacts this workforce as well. 

Previous Governor Deal made large strides in Juvenile Justice reform- for which I am INCREDIBLY grateful, yet the “banning the box” only moved the method of excluding previous offenders to the background check portion, where they have to pay for the ability to have their histories searched. There are a TON of people in the metro Atlanta area, yet I wager the combo of low pay with the exclusion of those with a history of interaction with the justice system precludes many from these jobs. 

Some of these positions also require unique skills & backgrounds. The gentleman who analyzed spent rounds against the national ATF database grew up with a dad who owned a pawn shop. His knowledge of guns before he ever came to APD was extensive because of his own life experience. While his ability to both recreate shooting circumstances is what I would consider a dream job, his work with law enforcement across the nation to match bullet signatures is a super tedious process. He uses two comparison microscopes, connected by an optical bridge, to analyze the individual bullets. Last year the APD had three thousand weapons and only two people to process them. His role as a firearms examiner takes 17 weeks of training, so to fill the needs of Atlanta, dare I say the need in our state, we needed to start years ago creating active pipelines from every Four H gun club in all 159 counties. 

My classmates were surprisingly not aware of the fact that every gun expels unique rounds. I feel like my gun knowledge is not super dense, but anyone who watches even a modicum of crime shows or podcasts would be exposed to this fact. Like a signature, a gun’s rifling and the way it strikes the round makes an imprint that can be uniquely matched. The documentation of these spent rounds in crimes goes into a nationwide database that enables our LEOs to link crimes for prosecution. 

While witnesses may not be reliable in cases, numbers, gun signatures, and data don’t lie. Hence the reason why forensic analysis in crime is such an essential part of policing at this point. 

We can debate about conviction and due process, all I’m saying is to even get to the portion of finding the folks who expel these rounds, takes literal years of work. 

The final section of my tour that evening was with another sector of re-creation- the Crime Scene Techs. These are the experts that take whatever happens in the real world, and try to recreate it or analyze it in a way that can make a compelling case and/or solve a mystery. They create physical fingerprints and can work with the firearms examiner to try to solve homicides. Their work is the stuff geek dreams are made of- I could see a SERIOUS overlap in STEAM focused learning in secondary schools, blending creativity with science and math. The tech indulged my questions about fake blood and all his chemicals- it was a super fun space! Fingerprints were last, yet not least. We met the analyst and again, fingerprint analysis is a super tedious area of work, but one that was CLEARLY enjoyed by the gentleman who explained everything to us. The swirls, arches, and lines were dizzying for me to look at for long periods of time, so I’m grateful these folks have chosen this career path.

It made me think of how different brains process data differently. Brains also interact with data and patterns differently as well. So often folks who are non neurotypical are seen as needing support for employment, yet that’s because our workspaces often cater to neurotypical extroverts.

Yet they would suck at these jobs!

You know who thrives in patterns and numbers?

Non neurotypical folks. 

Georgia’s Vocational Rehabilitation has a strategic plan, but it reads more like a budget document apologizing for using the state’s money rather than visioning a future. Perhaps this is why we don’t have more than what we currently do. 

Everyone my classmates and I met at the crime lab obviously enjoyed their work and relished in sharing their knowledge with us. I wish I could connect high school science classrooms with the folks at the lab. It seems like a genuinely missed opportunity that APS and the Ga Department of Education doesn’t connect more with the city departments, but my dreams of eliminating silos across the city seem to somehow be a threat I don’t yet fully understand. I saw a genuine link between what these folks do and a pathway forward for high school grads who may not choose the college track. I see a bridge for folks who are not neurotypical. I just need our legislators to eliminate the background search portion that precludes previous offenders from these jobs. Further, I remember the geeks and freaks, of which I was one more scientifically inclined kids from my own school experience that would have THRIVED in these fields. I want more for the future version of my peers than what we had. 

Moreover, I want more for my state and all who work in it. LEOs included. Connecting those in career spaces to kids who might want these jobs seems like low hanging fruit, but it also requires flexibility in education I’m not always sure is prevalent. While I may not fully understand all the processes of the police, I do have some understanding that if we want the workforce of tomorrow, we have to start building it out, today. I also know if we want less murders like Elijah McCLain and Jeremy Mardis in our national headlines, we have to start within our own law enforcement agencies first. I feel like I’m not alone in this but there seems to be a disconnect between those who see this and those who implement it in my state and city. I have a feeling this is an entire web of connection we’re missing. To some, that might present frustrations. For me, I see it as an opportunity for growth.

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