As president of the Atlanta Police Union (International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623), I feel obligated to express my opinion regarding recent accusations of police officers violating citizens' constitutional rights. Let me say that the recent, highly publicized issues are isolated incidents that are few and far between in comparison to the normal law enforcement behaviors of Atlanta police officers.
Speaking from my 25 years of experience in law enforcement, I have never found it to be a challenge to remain within the confines of constitutional guarantees. Police officers, like anyone else, sometimes make mistakes; however, each officer receives substantial training regarding citizens' constitutional rights. This training is mandated and state-certified through the Police Officer Selection Test. Additional training must also be successfully completed by officers who hope to climb the ranks of the department and become supervisors. The Atlanta Police Department went to great lengths to instill in me the city, state and federal requirements to conduct myself as a police officer — and now as a detective.
If, for some reason, a breakdown in proper law enforcement conduct is found, then we need to consider the possible reasons. First, have recruiting standards been compromised? Do current applicants have a passion for law enforcement, or are they simply trying to get a job in these tough economic times? Second, are recruits receiving sufficient training and education in criminal procedures and constitutional law? Have the training standards changed or diminished in any way? Finally, and perhaps most important, are the supervisors experienced and adequately trained, and do they interact effectively with officers in the field?
When I began my career in 1986, experienced officers and supervisors mentored me as I transitioned from training scenarios to making actual arrests. Even though I'd graduated from one of the country's top police academies, my on-the-job training quickly superseded much of what I'd been taught in school. Why? Because veteran officers often stopped by my calls to ask if I needed assistance and share their experience. I was able to discuss the situation and ensure that my decision was one that would meet all levels of scrutiny. The sergeants I worked under took an active part in showing me the ropes, ensuring that I understood the important function I performed for the citizens — as well as the legal liability that I and the city faced if I overstepped my authority.
In closing, let me emphasize that I don't believe that the citizens of Atlanta are in jeopardy of having their constitutional rights violated by the hard-working officers of the APD. But I do believe that the social climate has changed and police officers are no longer viewed as the heroes they once were. With that in mind, it is imperative that seniority in the department comes with responsibility. We must be our brother officers' keepers and show that a supervisor's primary responsibilities are to instruct younger officers and preserve the constitutional rights that govern our nation.
Ken Allen is an APD Detective.