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The full interview with police chief nominee George Turner

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CL: You've said that targeting gang violence will rank among your priorities as Police Chief. How can that be accomplished?

Turner: Well, the truth is, if you look at what's going on in our city, we talk about traditional gangs — the Crips, the Bloods, some of the Hispanic gangs like MS 13, and some of the national gangs — we don't see a whole large amount of national street gangs in the black community. However, there are some pretty consistent Hispanic national gangs in and around Atlanta. And, so, our challenge has been dealing with local street gangs; young guys who are coming together who are coming together to create criminal enterprises. They break into people's homes, they're selling drugs really just to create that network of criminals. And, the issue as we've seen ... we're tracking a number of those loose-knit groups that we call gangs, the state definition defines them as gangs as they come together to create a criminal enterprise. But, our initiative is that we've increased the number of people who are working in gangs, to first, to deal with three different situations: we always have to have a suppression piece, that is that we're identifying people and putting them in jail for violating the law. Then there's the prevention piece, that is, we're going into communities and talking at schools, trying to encourage young people not to get involved in gangs. Finally, we have to partner with communities and community groups that have been successful in those areas, we work along with them and bring them into some of the areas that we've been successful in. We've got three Police Athletic League centers that we encourage young people to go to. We generally have between 200 and 220 young people a day in those three centers, where they are working with uniformed patrol officers who are there everyday to build relationships and work as mentors in the community. And there are so many community programs that we're working collectively with. When I talk about gangs I always talk about the Police Executive Research forum. They pull together 100 chiefs of police form around the country who talk about what we need to do as police chiefs around gangs. In that space of those 100 police chiefs who came together — of course, we completed a survey here in Atlanta to participate in that, as well — and all that came out of that national survey, it talked about those three areas that we're already in. That's the national model. You have to suppress, you have to prevent and you have to partner. I felt pretty good that we were doing what they were suggesting, but we got to do more partnering. We got to because giving a young person something to hold onto is a really main piece. They suggest that you have to give young people a chance to make legitimate money so they can take care of themselves. Of course, young people who are involved in gangs are really generated toward that because they are looking for a way to provide something for themselves, someplace to belong.

CL: So, with whom do you partner to give kids a way to make legitimate money if that's the problem?

Turner: Since January we've had a number of different sources who wanted to do just that. To work with us. Alphi Phi Alpha, it's a black fraternity, one of the oldest black fraternities in the country. Their national office came to talk with us about how we could partner with some intern programs and some after-school care stuff. I talked with the Nation of Islam, of all folk. They really are, of course, very prevalent within the black community. They've partnered with the police commission in Chicago to work with street gangs, and they want to partner with us in Atlanta to do the same thing. These are conversations that I've had just this year, and it's really just picking through which ones we want to partner with because we want to make sure that the opportunity to partner makes sense for us to really get to the bottom of trying to help young people.

CL:What are you hearing from the community as far as their primary public safety concerns?

Turner: Well, you know, I think. I'm in my 29th year, this month is my 29th anniversary with the police department. I was born and raised in this city also, and when you talk to the community — and we do a lot of that; I've been to more than 87 or 88 different community associations — and in talking to folk, they're really looking for a police department that has integrity, that's accountable to citizens, that's involved in the community. And that's what we've tried to deliver the entire time I've been in this role, and we will continue to do that. That's exactly what our citizens want. They want a department that they can approach, police officers that's beyond reproach and have high integrity. They want them to be involved and they want me to be involved. And that's what I've done. I go to calls, I go to roll call; I'm in the community. And not just myself, the entire command staff. You know, you have to get out and set that example, but I expect our commanders to be out in the community and to be accountable to citizens.

CL: Statistics indicate that crime is down. Still, people don't necessarily feel safer. How do you plan to address that disconnect?

Turner: [Mayor Reed] has done an excellent job in this budget, for instance, in stating the priority in this city, and that is public safety. By adding additional officers, making sure that we deploy those officers in the right place, making sure officers are out there doing what we call community policing. Community policing is really just partnering with communities, making sure that they see the same folk doing the same things and being consistent in the community. Determining how communities want to be policed, working collectively, to resolved problems in a community. Community policing is a catch phrase. Really it's all about relationships. We do that by stating our goals, stating our intents and standing firm on what we say we're going to do and being accountable to citizens.

CL: What are your thoughts on neighborhood patrols? Should it be necessary for residents to pay off-duty officers to patrol their neighborhoods?

Turner: I would hope that we will get to that. We have a challenge with just the sheer number of officers we have out on patrol. We have an obligation to do everything that we can with the resources we have. We do a decent job. I don't say that we've totally turned a corner. We won't. The mayor says it perfectly: we have an obligation to make Atlanta the safest city in America, and that's our goal. We've got a long ways to go. Should communities do their patrol? I think that you'll find that the economy has forced a number of those communities to either reduce the number of days that they have patrol on and they are partnering more closely with the precinct commanders to find out exactly what those gaps are. That's part of what I call a true partnership. You know, I would always encourage citizens to do all they can to protect their own properties — within the law. Those neighborhood patrols are very positive. If you look at big cities around the country, there's not anything different than what you see around the country. The last thing I would do is encourage them to discontinue that service. Even when we have the additional 100 officers hired, we wills till not be able to put a police officer on every corner, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And I don't know if the society we live in really want that. But I do think that what it will do for us, is to help us to continue to grow our police department, deal with issues as our city swells to above a million every day with visitors coming in that we have an obligation to serve, and being able to make good decisions with the limited resources that we have, at the same time trying to partner with other agencies that operate inside our police department, like the university police, the state patrol and those entities that work inside the city. Relationships is really the key word to all of this, and I think we're doing a good job of that.

CL: You've suggested increasing the number of police zones from six to seven. To what end?

Turner: Let me just correct that. Under the last administration, there was a plan that suggested the city could support and should support a seventh precinct and that the geographical area of the precincts that we presently have are simply too large. I'll give you an example: Zone 2 They have less calls for service, but the mileage that represents Zone 2 is better than 38 square miles. That's a huge space. At the same time, there are only 11 beats in that 38 square miles, so you can imagine how difficult it would be for one officer to patrol the areas that he or she is responsible for. So, the recommendation, we are working on three options. We had a mandate by council, first of the year, to do a beat redesign for the city. We had 180 days to produce it to council. At the end of the recess, we'll plan a work session to present our findings and what our recommendations will be to the council. We worked really late last night to try to figure out what plans we plan to move forward. We have some challenges, if you can imagine, to what's happened in our city since the last big redesign. Atlantic Station was not there, all of the developments around that area ... you have a growth in this community, a change, for instance, what's happened in Zone 1. When we did our last beat redesign, I was a precinct commander in Zone 1 and we had 11 housing projects there. There are no housing projects in Zone 1 now. But if you think about 8 years in a major city, the major changes that can take place in that time, we have to take all of those elements, so we've done that. It's a sheer numbers game, looking at what the calls for service are for the actual square miles that we have the beats presently in. And, so, every change that you make when you start talking about redesigning beats and zones, there's an economic impact on the city's budget, so we have to make that recommendation to the city.

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