APD Series 8

This week’s series on the APD’s Citizens’ Police Academy deals with a heavier topic: the Special Victims Unit. I won’t get into details of what we heard in the class or what I know of abuse and neglect of minors. That said, I did want to offer somewhat of an advisory on this week’s post, following the horrific tragedies of Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa, and Ames. If you’re just not feeling up to the mental weight of considering special victims- skip this and come back to the post another day. 

The presentation offered by the Special Victims Unit was of particular interest to me.  I do not know what corner of hell people come from who neglect and abuse children, yet I have taken interest professionally and in my spare time to root them out and have advocated to empower the fullest punishment of Georgia’s laws in prosecuting them. I have volunteered within the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. for years regarding anti-trafficking efforts, and then belatedly had YouthSpark as a client, all before the FLOGA picked trafficking up as a policy matter. Trafficking is a serious issue in the city of Atlanta state of Georgia and I’ve always found it really bizarre how little the Atlanta police talk about it. The SVU presentation really didn’t discuss it at all either, surprisingly. 

The presenter did discuss particular cases that demonstrated her process though. Although she shared no identifiable details, she recalled aspects of certain cases that anyone could discern weighed heavily on her. She spoke so softly, with such deference, and the classroom was so quiet during her discussion, one could have heard a pin drop. I do not know what stuff the presentere is made of, but IMHO, the work she does is of divine calling and it takes an incredibly strong moral and mental character to do what she does. I have been trained as a Fulton County CASA, and years ago I interviewed for Cobb County’s CASA office. One of the aspects of these roles requires a strong poker face, which is difficult depending upon what one may encounter. Case details in these spaces are shocking to most and can be devastating to learn. Our presenter deals with missing children, runaways, physical abuse, and severe forms of neglect, AND juvenile sex trafficking. 

Georgia legally defines a child as: under the age of 18, under the age of 17 when alleged to have committed a delinquent act, under the age of 20 and in care of DFCS, as a result of being an adjudicated dependent before reaching 18 years of age. This definition is of some importance as we redefine who is under DFCS care and thereby allocate state resources to it. I’m aware in Fulton County, our DFCS process prioritizes adopting out teenagers and sibling groups of three or more because without willing foster families, these DFCS kids are housed in hotel rooms, by themselves. This is a practice Fox 5 covered in the last couple of days, highlighted by a 25 person Fulton Co. DFCS employee walk-out. I am aware this is a particular area of importance to the current Director of DFCS and Commissioner of DHS. It is curious to me how the county and state evade accountability for neglect in this environment, but as Covid protocols are being reduced statewide, my guess is this too shall change. Here’s hoping!

In the case of missing and exploited children under the age of 12, our presenter assured us all things come to a stop with SVU calling GSP, GBI, etc. to engage them as every minute counts in the first few hours of these cases. In many instances, I think folks know already, children go missing because of differences between parents rather than exploitation or kidnapping. Some of you may be old enough to remember faces of missing children on milk cartons. That practice existed until someone pointed out that the majority of those missing children were removed from one parent by another parent. Across the street from me, neighbors were devastated to learn of an infant fatality in a car crash due to a mother purposefully crashing into the car of the child’s father. Missing children are also just sometimes temporarily missing. I live in a family oriented community, much like the one in which I grew up. Children play outside and are free to roam around until the street lights come on-it’s not just on Stranger Things. The Mozley Park Neighborhood Association has worked VERY HARD to get more stop signs and speed humps in the neighborhood to slow down traffic between MLK and Westview because unlike where I grew up- Atlanta’s kids have to deal with more cars on paved streets than dirt roads. Children are also just really great at hiding and falling asleep in random places! The first place the presenter says she checks is the home the child lives in before anywhere else. This may seem silly- but as many parents tell me- kids will fall asleep in the craziest positions and places!

Some other elements of her work that she shared and may not be common knowledge to Peach Punditers…

The state of Georgia does not define rape as anything other than a heterosexual relationship. So we, as a state, cannot convict adults or minors of rape in cases of homosexual rape. This seems significant to mention during Pride month. This type of crime may be classified as assault, or aggravated sodomy, but not rape. I find this fascinating as we live in the age in which we talk openly now about the centuries of rape and molestation of boys within the Catholic church and somehow the WASPy good ‘ol boys at the Capitol can’t wrap their heads around why their counterparts in the Knights of Columbus should be held equally accountable under the rule of law whether they fool with their daughters or their sons. And while my church was kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention some time ago (not a big fan of female ministers, unfortunately) the SBC has recently released its own report as well. Spoiler alert: sexual abuse isn’t limited by denomiantion. 

If lawmakers are looking for ways of demonstrating their allyship, this seems like low hanging fruit to address rape that has far greater impact than wearing a rainbow lapel pin. 

Rape is sadly not limited to adults. So the APD, Fulton, and Dekalb Counties use the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy as a resource in cases of sexual abuse. This center and the resources within, are free within these jurisdictions and I sincerely wish a network of these centers could be created and sustained across our state. This should not be limited to the Atlanta metro area. At the center, a child can work with trained therapists to discuss their trauma once and only once, in a videotaped interview interacting with a trained therapist with LEOs working behind the scenes to create a testimony that can be used in court for prosecution without the child needing to be present in the courtroom itself. The child is also evaluated by a medical doctor, in order to document abuse.

I had the good fortune to learn about the GCCA and the efforts of Dr. Greenbaum at CHOA from my volunteer service within the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc., where one of my fellow Leaguers worked as a therapist. 

If the FLOGA or any legislator is looking to make more impact in this space, I’d personally recommend turning to these folks for guidance. 

The classroom experience didn’t disappoint in this unit of the Citizens’ Police Academy either, as a teacher was one of my fellow classmates. She asked about the follow up of DFCS after reports were made, in particular. I was grateful for the question. As a mandatory reporter during my service within the League, I never knew what came of any cases that were reported. The presenter didn’t offer much insight here either, and that was somewhat disappointing to learn. The presenter said that once DFCS was engaged, there wasn’t further reporting done back to the SVU. This tracked with what I learned when I served as a CASA. I learned the only oversight of DFCS came from state legislators. 

For a state that has been dominated with conservatives that seem to like to trumpet accountability for the last decade, it seems striking that there’s literally no entity other than the Gold Dome to turn to for follow up on reported cases of abuse and neglect. 

I feel like we can easily fix this, right?

I will talk about mental health and healthcare in general for the APD more later in the series, yet I specifically asked this presenter how she dealt with the heaviness of her work. I had hoped it would give the class the opportunity to learn about mental health benefits as provided as healthcare for APD officers. I tried to remember to ask that of the majority of officers with which I engaged. I was surprised when she discussed self-care and the support of her family. These are absolutely healthy and reasonable options- it’s just- I had hoped we might be at a point where we could get to a place of discussion that humanized the APD. I was hoping to safely discuss what Atlantans’ responsibility to caring for the officers who protect us is- in a space where I didn’t think there would be much controversy- most people agree we should protect minors (albeit we may define that term differently). It was not to be, unfortunately. 

It was a quiet leaving of the classroom that evening. The silence was heavy, as were the hearts. 

I haven’t talked a lot about my classmates, and that’s somewhat purposeful. It’s not that I didn’t interact nor got to know them, I just recognize they probably don’t wish for their thoughts and names to be released. What I will say about my classmates here is that a number of them engaged in either professional or volunteer spaces with children. My classmates, like me, care about the city around us, care deeply about our future citizens, and make their own efforts to do what they can. I wasn’t in a room full of bystanders. Quite the opposite- these are people who are active in their communities and in organizations across the city of Atlanta. 

It seems necessary, in a week where the country is mourning the death of 18 children, and a teacher, to mention that here, in Atlanta, I know that the folks in the room with me wanted to learn how to be helpers to the children around us. This has been a heavy week and this session was a heavy unit. 

But when we know better, we do better. And in the midst of this week, remembering all those Atlantans in the room with me restores my hope. 

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