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Criminal Justice

Here’s How You Can Tell the Mayor What You Want in a New APD Chief

Dickens is asking for community input as he searches for the city’s next top cop.

Mayor Andre Dickens is asking Atlantans to tell him what they are looking for in their next chief of police. (Derek White/Getty Images)

Mayor Andre Dickens wants Atlanta residents to fill out a survey about what qualities you are looking for in the next chief of police.

“Building public trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve is a collaborative process, and our Administration wants to ensure that all Atlantans have a seat at the table so we can hear their priorities for policing in Atlanta,” Dickens said.

The anonymous survey asks residents to rank which qualifications, priorities, and leadership qualities are most important to them in a new police chief. Atlanta’s next top cop will replace interim Police Chief Darin Schierbaum.

Tiffany Roberts, director of public policy at the Southern Center for Human Rights, explained to Capital B Atlanta that it’s important for residents to be involved in this process because it allows the community to help to shape the city’s values.

In 2010, Roberts sat on the search committee to find a new chief of police for recently inaugurated Mayor Kasim Reed. Police Chief George Turner was ultimately chosen by Reed and served from 2010 until his retirement in 2016.

“Through that process I was able to witness, for example, the power of the Atlanta Police Foundation, the lack of diversity of thought among the people who are making the decisions, and different pressures that are put on community members who participate in this process,” Roberts said.

Dickens has not yet announced who will sit on his search committee. Roberts said that it is just as important for community members to sit on the committee that will end up interviewing the candidates the mayor will consider.

In Atlanta, the chief of police is under the office of the executive, meaning they report directly to the mayor. During Dickens’ nine months in office, Roberts said, SCHR has seen Dickens consistently back the police department and the status quo. Early in his term, Dickens announced his goal to hire 250 new APD officers.

This June he announced that APD officers, investigators, sergeants, and lieutenants would receive a $4,000 retention bonus. Captains, majors, and chiefs would receive a $1,000 retention bonus.

She added that if the new chief is someone who is willing to read, learn, and have their policies informed by people who don’t normally have power, they will probably end up having to stand up to the mayor and their own department.

“The police chief does have the power to promulgate policies that become what they call ‘SOP,’ standard operating procedures within the police department,” Roberts said.

She noted that the mayor has the authority to direct the chief of police to act in alignment with the mayor’s values.

As an Atlanta resident, Roberts said she is looking for a chief of police that sees themselves as a small part of the total public safety equation. She added that a good candidate would be willing to advocate for funding and resources to be diverted to meeting the needs of the people.

When she sat on the 2010 search committee, one question the panel asked each candidate was whether they considered themselves to be at war with anything.

“Most of the candidates would adopt war language for one thing or another. But what I was looking for is someone who didn’t see themselves as being at war with the community that funds their work. And I believe that that war paradigm is the one that authorizes violence against black, brown, and poor communities,” she said.

It’s not clear how the community feedback will be incorporated into the decision made by the mayor and search committee. The nationwide search has already begun for a new chief of police, led by Public Sector Search & Consulting. But the mayor’s office has yet to announce a timeframe for the new chief to be appointed.