The week after my SWAT tour within the Atlanta Citizens’ Police Academy was the ride along. Each member of the class was divided up into our Police Zones and were paired with an officer in whose vehicle we were to ride for the day. I would assert I learned the most from this part of my police academy experience. The officers were incredibly open, kind, and more than happy to answer my questions and explain what was going on around me. In fact, I would genuinely encourage the APD to rethink who they have giving presentations to the Citizens’ Police Academy. If they’d had the officers in Zone 1 give the presentations, I would assert the transparency offered by them would rebuild years of broken trust with the community. Sadly, this was never asked nor was it part of any survey in which I took part, so presumably unless someone from the APD takes the time to read my series, no one will ever know. So it goes. I intend to share with you all what I learned here and I hope the readers of Peach Pundit can use this information to its highest purpose.
There were some challenges around preparation for the ride- namely that I was largely forgotten. Additionally, there was some mix up with my zone- I live in Zone 1 (I was the only one from Zone 1 in the class) and it was thought I lived in Zone 2 (Buckhead). Once this was straightened out, I was given another day and time to ride. I showed up to the Zone 1 Precinct (located 8 minutes away from my house, according to Google maps) and clearly no one had given a heads up to the Precinct Captain. Super nice dude- he rolled with it, was more than gracious, and assigned me to an officer.
Before it was decided what to do with me, I had the chance to read every poster in the room, adjust my huge bullet proof vest to my frame, and to check out the equipment closet adjacent to the room in which the officers gathered. As officers filed in, I introduced myself. I asked if I could take pictures. I could photograph some things, not others. I respected those wishes. I was particularly interested in the ShotSpotter map that was hanging on the wall. It was an outline of my own neighborhood and I was curious about it. I have mentioned ShotSpotter before in a previous post. Here’s 11Alive’s previous coverage. It’s a technology that Atlanta adopted, then dropped, and has now picked up again. Used by the military, it helps identify where shots are fired in certain areas. Helpful in war zones perhaps, not particularly in a state that has a bunch of
rednecks and Black folks that like to shoot guns for Fourth of July, Christmas, Juneteenth, you name it, we’re setting off fireworks and ammo any day ending in “y”.
I grew up at the end of Mt. Paran Church and Social Circle Fairplay roads with family and friends who regularly evaded game warden limits and “shined” at night. For my city folk brethren, this is a practice of using headlamps on trucks and jeeps to shine light into wildlife’s eyes in order to make them easier targets and to blind/ stun them so they cannot run. It’s an illegal practice, but the “f the man” feeling was pretty strong in Walton County then and I can only imagine what a ShotSpotter map might have looked like in that area on nights in my childhood in comparison to my current neighborhood now. Both would be pretty busy maps, yet probably with few definitive results or arrests.
In a later conversation (that I didn’t bring up) officers shared they thought the ShotSpotter program was pretty useless. Some remembered it from previous years, and discussed it with less seasoned members of the force. Basically for the reasons I stated above, they too found the tool to be an expensive tool to highlight ish they already knew.
Like I said, I liked these officers A LOT.
Some things I didn’t like though were some of the more experienced officers’ dismissiveness of my neighborhood, the gist of which was, ‘it used to be really bad, but now it’s definitely getting better…yet somehow is still not good’. It was a little difficult to tease out, and I don’t want to misrepresent the officers’ feelings nor experience. Nor would I say they are alone. Neighbors who’ve lived in Mozley Park in the 90s- contemporaries of mine who grew up on the same street they’re now raising their children have also told me it was ‘bad’- a lot of drugs, gun violence, and trauma.
…Also a lot of generational poverty and lack of investment and/or maintenance from the City of Atlanta.
When the precinct Captain gathered everyone around, I was formally introduced. They discussed the (then) potential raises that have been announced now and who the potential next Chief might be. Some bet on Schierbaum, others weren’t sure.
“I’d bet my bottom dollar it’ll be Schierbaum”
“You heard it here first, folks,” the Captain deferred to me.
I noticed some officers were dressed differently than others- their vests and belts were different. I asked about this. An officer explained that the APD doesn’t provide the best protection, so some officers buy their own (and spend their own money) to make certain they are protected. I saw at least two officers that had different equipment, which created a problem later.
Another superior- different from the precinct captain- was blessing some officers out for this equipment difference. He sent them home. He and I never spoke directly, but others around us explained- it’s a liability for the city. If an officer is harmed in the line of duty and isn’t wearing city approved gear- even if it’s better- the city doesn’t want to risk the potential gap that may create in insurance details.
As a citizen- this is heartbreaking. I may protest and question the APD with gusto- yet I also expect my city to provide them with the absolute best protective gear on the market. Like the military- if you are willing to put your life on the line for me, I believe your kit should be top of the line.
Further, these two officers drove in from an hour outside of the city- one from Cherokee County and the other from Gwinnett County. To send them home and return was at least a 2 hour delay from serving. At least one was considering not returning for the day. I asked both of them why they chose to drive so far in rather than serving closer to home. Pay was higher here vs other jurisdictions. That was sort of surprising to hear, especially considering the gas they were spending to drive in. But this is something I also understood. Some almost 20 years ago now I drove from Walton County to the corner of Andy Young and Piedmont everyday (90 miles roundtrip). Before that, I drove from Monroe to Gainesville. (If people ever wonder why I value public transit, here’s your reason.) You do what you have to to get your foot in doors to move up, make the money, and climb the proverbial ladder. I remember the differences of wages in each area to this day. This is one of the many reasons why I’ve cared so much about development outside of Atlanta- without it, folks will still have to drive to get ahead. I would have loved the ability to stay in Walton County to work. I could have bought a four bedroom home for the price of my little one bedroom condo off Charles Allen Dr. *sigh*
That said, if Mayor Caldwell is ever looking to add officers, I can make a recommendation. 🙂
In the background of all of this was a TV screen. I recognized the program as the Microsoft BI program explained to the class in the second class. It identifies all the open cases, as called into 911. These were the cases to which the officers were to respond. But there was one that none of the officers wanted to respond to: a potential mental break- not associated with a residence, but a business address. The officer to which I was assigned didn’t want to respond because there had been a similar case in the past and the physical damage done to the officer’s body after the episode required physical therapy. The officer was literally never the same. The officer wasn’t willingly going to respond to that type of call again- no way, no how. The other officers felt the same and insisted it was Grady’s responsibility.
They explained the process to me: when a call is made, you have Grady EMS, APD, and Atlanta Fire and Rescue Dept. respond. All take a certain amount of time to get there, so depending upon the call, the officers may discern whether to head over immediately, or let Grady or AFD respond. The added challenge of this calculation was that Grady, like EMTs across the nation, is experiencing shortages, so the officers know that they may show up but Grady and their “sleepy juice” was what the officers referred to the tranquilizers as- may not be present. If the individual is violent, it’s on the officers to restrain and subdue the individual.
I want to pause for a moment and remind readers that Atlanta has a Pre-Arrest Diversion Service (PADS) that is only M-F, 7 to 7. I wrote about that here. As readers can probably imagine, it’s difficult for humans to reliably have mental breaks during business hours, so the default then becomes the police, EMS, and fire dept. While we can be hopeful the city will invest more in the PADS program in the budget that will be voted upon on Tuesday, PP readers can also bet that the relief in responding emergency services would also benefit from PADS’ further expansion.
The lack of Grady and APD response also speaks to a phenomenon my neighbors and I have known to be normal – long wait times for response. My neighbors (a younger couple that moved in after my husband and I did) keep some wildlife and a dog and unfortunately had their home broken into. When they called the police- the APD took an hour to respond. Please remember I referenced an 8 minute drive time on Google Maps. I called (3 times) to report my car with a broken window and stolen cell phone in one day over the course of 3 hours, and no one came. Most recently, one evening a hit and run occurred on one side of our block, off Chicamauga, the driver drove the car to Cerro, where he parked it and left his younger brother, partner, their toddler and infant in the car while they waited for the police after he called. Thirty minutes passed, and I noticed the two men out by the street sign at Cerro and MLK Jr. Dr. The driver approached me as my husband and I were weeding our guerrilla garden. The following is paraphrased:
‘Excuse me, ma’am, would you mind calling the cops for me?’
‘Call the cops? Sure, what happened?’
‘We had a hit and run. I called them thirty minutes ago, but no one has shown up. I have a baby in the car and it’s hot out here. I was trying to catch the driver, but I’m afraid the more we wait, the greater likelihood the other car will be long gone.’
My husband went to go and get cold drinks and I dialed.
‘Hello, 911, what is your emergency?’
‘Hi, I’m calling from 1304 MLK Jr. Dr. There has been a hit and run reported. The car is parked off of Cerro St. It’s a driver and his family- an infant in the car. They’ve been waiting 30 minutes.’
‘This is a hit and run that has been previously reported?’
‘A responding officer will be present as soon as possible.’
‘And if they are not, how long should I wait before calling back?’
‘Call back whenever you feel is appropriate.’
‘Ok. Thank you. I appreciate it!’
The police came within 10 minutes, sirens blaring.
For the sake of the full picture, Peach Punditers know my husband and I are white. The driver and his family are Black. I hope I don’t have to explain why the driver asked me to call 911.
Some other reasons for delays in response were explained at the precinct. As the officers and I waited for a call, I asked questions. The vehicles are shared- so sometimes there may be a call, but not enough vehicles for the officers who are available. This seemed striking in contrast to all the Black SUVs and trucks I saw at the SWAT grounds for those officers.
Once in a vehicle, I was acquainted with the technology within it as well- phones, radios attached to officers and to the vehicles. Some worked, some didn’t. This presented a challenge for the officer with which I was assigned. At times there were various things that needed calling in over the course of the ride along and the non-functioning equipment just added extra steps in communication. This also seemed striking knowing how much the City of Atlanta probably pays in contracts to the companies that provide the phones, radios, and cellular service for GPS and internet.
It made me wonder who manages these contracts and advocates for the officers on the beat to ensure they are fully resourced.
We drove around the Zone. We visited the Mayor’s residence, where we spoke with the officer outside his home. The Mayor receives 24 hour surveillance of his home, broken up in shifts and facilitated by the APD. I also noticed how high the fence was surrounding his house. It struck me in contrast to my own residence where I have only one fence- and we maintain it largely just to ensure the basketballs thrown at the hoop in the back are kept in the yard. On either side of my backyard, no fences exist. This is the primary reason why I’ve gotten to meet the children in the neighborhood- they walked through originally to the trampoline belonging to my neighbors (a birthday gift for their first grandson). Now they and adults use our backyard for an extension of their own for parties, pick up basketball games, and an excuse to catch up on neighborhood gossip. I get that the Mayor needs protection and the fence makes that easier. It just also struck me that he probably misses out on these small aspects of real life and interaction with his other ‘normal’ neighbors. I wonder if he misses that. I know I would. It made me sort of sad for him. It also made me wonder how strings were pulled for him as fences of certain heights are generally restricted by zoning code. Howell Station neighbors raise CAIN over fence heights, y’all.
We visited a few neighborhood areas. There was a traffic stop- an older lady speeding through a stop sign, on her way to her home. A warning was issued, but nothing serious. Another neighbor in a different neighborhood was an older gentleman who called the APD on his neighbors’ loud music. When we arrived, the music was off, and the officer and I discussed how this was pretty common. Older neighbors fear interaction with their own younger neighbors and (as a result) call upon the APD to intervene. We both agreed this was a poor use of the officers; time but largely therapeutic for the older residents. The officer with whom I was assigned made conversation, checked on the resident making the call, and while not invasive, asked questions about health and the neighborhood.
We headed over to a senior center. There were calls about ‘rowdiness’ of family members coming in and staying or being questioned about who they were visiting. There was a responding officer already present. We chatted among ourselves for some time, and shared snacks. Like the officer to which I was assigned, this officer was married. Like me, this officer and spouse were considering adoption and were currently fostering. We discussed the fostering officer’s experience and how all was juggled with work. We also all discussed real estate prices in the city and how to best address the appraisal process for their homes. We discussed removing identifying pictures and how my white female presence presents a different image to appraisers. I hate this about real estate, but I also try to inform folks how to best play the game.
At some point my ride along officer asked when I needed to head back to the station. I explained that I signed up for the evening shift, but was told to be present at 2pm. I explained the previous confusion, so I wasn’t entirely sure where and when my ride along began and ended. The officer said we weren’t staying out that late and that the later the time, the more potential for action. I explained I’d banked on that and chose my shift that way. The only reason I didn’t choose the overnight shift was due to my requirement of work the next day.
Following this conversation, and the waning of the day, we returned to the precinct and eventually seemed to respond to more active calls.
At the precinct, I spoke with two officers- one somewhat new to the force who was relegated to desk duty that day and another the officers referred to with an affectionate nickname denoting seniority because this officer retired and came back. Both were filling out paperwork at certain points. The less experienced officer had answered a ton of my questions and was genuinely eager to explain things. It seems that every officer’s report had to be reviewed- manually- by another officer. That’s what this person was doing as we talked. I asked why this wasn’t handled by civilians and the officer expressed that this was something no one seemed to understand. It also seemed like such a waste of this officer’s time- time that could be out on the street and contribute to lower response times. I understand the importance of having a professional knowledge of the report to read between the lines or follow up with another officer for anything incomplete, but the amount of sheer time this was taking of that officer was something that we could both see was meaningless. I remember sharing:
“It’s as if Atlanta is run on Scotch tape and bubble gum, but it’s not even the actual branded kind of tape. It’s the off-brand that’s not quite as sticky.”
This discussion reminded me about calling 311 at some point regarding road work done on Chappelle (pronounced “Chapel”, and a couple of streets over from me). I received personal numbers for each individual along the Dept. of Public Works ladder to get to the person down on the ground. While it was great to talk to the person on the ground, it took hours and multiple calls to get a basic update, which didn’t seem to be shared up the ladder at all. The whole experience taught me that if I want to know what’s going on, just drive over and ask- don’t call. It’ll be faster and no one along the way will know anymore than you do either.
It seems so strange to see this lack of systems in a city of Atlanta’s size. It’s like we’re all operating on systems in the 1990s despite being 20+ years into the new century. From the ineffective radios the cops were using in their vehicles to this shuffling of paper, the human touch component is high, which also contributes to error and slower speeds. This seems like really low hanging fruit that could be easily improved upon.
The retired and returned officer was similar, yet richer in sharing details, sort of what I expected. We discussed my living in Mozley Park since 2018 and the officer shared that the neighborhoods were always evolving. It seemed to me, unlike some of the other more seasoned officers, this one didn’t see neighborhoods as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ more that different situations were encountered in each and where those things pop up evolve over time. We discussed poverty as a major contributor to the prevalence of crime. I remember particularly discussing how the lines of poverty and crime follow red lining. I remember this because at that point the officer sort of stopped- you could see a facial recognition on the overlap, but there was no real delving into that topic. Instead, the officer asked me if I was the call about the guy in the group home. He remembered my husband and I and our friend, who was the person who actually called after he’d been thrown out of one of the state sponsored group homes across the street from us by his house manager. I wrote about that here. The officer reiterated gratitude because all of the precinct has responded to those homes- repeatedly over the past few years. The shame of it all and both of our inability to really make any change frustrated us both.
I was particularly interested in why this police officer wanted to leave and then return. The officer shared that the independence beat cops have in Atlanta was cherished. Other areas are a bit heavier handed, but here, officers’ judgements are generally respected and they aren’t micromanaged. This officer appreciated the autonomy and came back when it seemed like more officers were needed. I appreciated this insight and wonder how it plays into the slow response times and feelings of frustration some of the city has toward the APD now.
We headed back out to the vehicle. The first call in the evening was to a home where a dispute occurred between family members and someone had called 911 identifying the ‘strange behavior’ of the other family member. When we showed up, Grady EMS was already there, as was another responding police officer. There was some discussion with the family member in question. There was some confusion, and although no one seemed belligerent, there was agitation and a higher level of anxiety for sure.
‘Have you eaten today?’
This was a question I heard on this and the following call, which was more dire. There are a bevy of things in this world I know absolutely nothing about, but diabetes- affecting both of the individuals in these calls, I know about intimately. I have been diagnosed with Type 1, insulin dependent diabetes since a month and a day before I turned seven years old. I wear an insulin pump at all times. Diabetes is often associated with pregnancy or obesity. I’m sure I could shed a pound or two, but I’m neither obese nor have I ever been pregnant. I’m just super lucky in the gene pool. Every generation in my father’s family has been diagnosed- mainly as adults. I’m just the super special snowflake who won the jackpot in childhood with diabetes and then again at age fifteen with rheumatoid arthritis.
I mention this, because diabetics react differently to things- we heal more slowly. Drugs hit us differently. My recent bite from a horse (lost my thumbnail but kept my thumb!) meant a script for opiates that made me so sick I could barely stand due to nausea with even only a half a tablet. When our blood glucose levels are low, executive function fails. I am naturally aggressive. I can be more so when my blood sugar is low. This can be both physical and in my attitude toward those around me. Because of the obscene costs of healthcare in our nation, many folks who have diabetes do not get the adequate care that they need. This causes a variety of challenges and I was pleased to see the officer recognized this immediately.
I spoke to the other responding officer. This officer was relatively new to the force, and shared about a grad degree. I asked about this, knowing my own stress incurred while trying to balance work and grad school and inquired about the pursuit of law enforcement rather than the private sector. Like me, the officer wanted to make a difference in the community, and saw this as a way to make a meaningful impact. If I remember correctly, the undergrad was political science, so we had some points in common.
The next stop was at dusk. We rolled into an older neighborhood- reminded me of mine. We spoke to a neighbor outside the home that approached as we arrived. She’d been waiting some time. In the course of discussion, she shared that her neighbor- who the officer was there to check on- had diabetes. I shouted to the officer (inside now) because I hadn’t heard that detail at any point. Fire and rescue was present as well. Glucose was administered and once the elderly patient was more aware, she was lifted and moved on to a stretcher. The whole scene made me wonder how much our lack of federal will to address healthcare costs and insurance reform burdens our city’s first responders.
The event also reminded me of my and my husband’s plan to use ecanvasser and google maps to map senior citizens in our neighborhood to be shared with 911. If I was ever presented with a reason- here it is!
At the end of the night, the officer took us over to Dollar General. The ride along officer knew the closing time employees appreciated an officer’s presence as they walked to their cars. I thought about how many times I walked back to my car at the end of the night at Lenox, Phipps, and Perimeter Mall jobs I’ve held over the years. Predominantly female employees, we all tried to walk in groups back to our cars, and I’ve driven many co-workers to MARTA stations and across parking lots so they didn’t have to walk alone. The experience reminded me how being scared as a woman in America is a shared experience.
This piece shares much, yet not all of what was discussed and learned during the ride along. I found the experience to be the most educational of all within the Citizens Police Academy. There’s some substantial amount I haven’t discussed here that I hope to share more about in a subsequent catchall piece. Of significance, I should mention that I didn’t patrol or even visit my own neighborhood or any of the others immediately surrounding mine. Zone 1 is fairly large, so the focus on other parts of it were presumably to protect neighbors’ privacy. I appreciated the courtesy of the officers with which I interacted and their openness to answering my questions. They were vastly different from the next gathering of the Citizens’ Police Academy class. Whew. That was…something. I look forward to sharing more. Thanks for sticking with me.