By Charlie Maddox
As a citizen of Athens, Georgia for 73 years and as one who has dedicated the majority of my life to helping Athens become a better place to live, I am standing with anyone and everyone who opposes the efforts to defund the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
Many individuals past and present have fought the battle to get the Athens Police Department to where it is considered one of the best in the country. That is what it is today.
There are so many members of this community who have not attended rallies, but instead have engaged police department officials in useful and productive dialog. This has happened not just recently but over an extended period of time.
The Athens-Clarke County Police Department has evolved to be one of the best trained, best equipped, most concerned departments found anywhere in this country.
For the past 20 years, the Athens Clarke County Police Department has been led by some of the most qualified, invested and community minded leaders that you could ever find anywhere. Many citizens of color like me have had great experiences with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department over the last 20 years and consider these great public servants our friends.
We have been privileged to have qualified and dedicated individuals to lead the department in many areas. Jack Lumpkin, a native Athenian and one of the most praised police executives in the country commanded the police force here in Athens for over 17 years and left it as one of the best trained, updated, responsive police departments around.
Today, we are privileged to have Cleveland Spruill Sr., another highly respected and renown police leader, heading a department that is steadily becoming amongst the most elite departments in the country through its work providing the comprehensive needs to such a diverse community as Athens, Georgia.
There are those who believe that they are experts and have more insight into the operations and maintenance of an effective law enforcement agency. This issue of those with more ideas than wisdom is hurting our town. Instead, we should be listening to those individuals that are trained and experienced in providing for the needs of Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
My service within our community has given me the opportunity to interact with many of our police officers over several years. And yes, no segment of any community is without those that fail to be responsible in carrying out their duties, but as I and many others have observed over the years, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department has been a shining example of what good citizens want in a police department.
As long as we are human, there will always be room for improvement and I have seen this department advance far beyond the normal expectations. I hope to see it continued with Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission supporting the funding and help to form sound, sensible and effective policies that benefit the citizens of Athens-Clarke County.
The majority of our citizens understand and respect the need for police within our communities. Because of the times we live in, we as a community need the services offered by a well-trained, diverse and dependable police force. Perhaps now more than ever.
We need the police in our community to be sensitive to the needs, situations, concerns and challenges within the community that they are sworn to protect and serve. And they have proven they are.
As a citizen of Athens, I do not see the need to react to situations that are occurring in other communities in such a drastic way as defunding our police department when we are not suffering from those kinds of breakdowns. We cannot allow those intent on seizing political power to put forth unqualified ideas that will hurt the most vulnerable in our community rather than helping.
The idea of placing unarmed mental health workers in situations where their lives are in danger is not responsible policy and it is not grounded in reality. The line between chaos and protection in our communities rest between those who would break our laws and those who enforce our laws.
There are many incidents where the difference between tragedy and successful resolution of problems within our community has been the actions taken by dedicated professionals within our police department. Before we even think about defunding the one organization that provides for the safety and security of this community, we need to look at the possible results of such actions.
Even with what some call full-funding of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, real obstacles stand in the way of making and keeping our community safe. We still have a difficult time recruiting and retaining good professionals who already operate under dire circumstances. Many direct practice social workers are already worked beyond a reasonable capacity and placing them in situations of potential violence is a sure way to avoid having qualified and dedicated individuals serve in what is proposed to be a very dangerous situation under this proposal.
Often just the presence of the police provides safety for the community. The opposite is also true. With this proposal to defund, reduce and divert funding, we would not be able to have the adequate personnel to serve the entire community and would only be able to respond after the fact to situations where just the presence or knowledge of a police presence acts as a deterrent.
Let me be clear, no matter what your rationale may be, less police makes Athens less safe.
There are individuals who would choose a defunded police department, not for the safety of the community, not for the safety for the law abiding citizen, not for the hard working individuals that make Athens great, but for some idea that has little or no validity in effective policing.
There are individuals that welcome less police. There are people that welcome less law enforcement and will welcome the opportunities to operate without the fear or concern that what they plan to do in a community will go unchallenged.
As a black man born and raised in this town and has raised a family here, let me be clear: Our neighborhoods will be the first to feel the pain from this poorly thought out, imported solution. If you genuinely think Black Lives Matter, please start listening to black voices.
The Athens-Clarke County Police Department has prided itself in maintaining a community-oriented police department where officers form relationships with community members and work with them in serving and protecting their community.
These are some of the things that are not publicized but happen regularly in our communities, linking our children and adults to our policemen and policewomen. Any defunding would ensure that programs like “Shop with a Cop”, “National Night Out”, and “Cops and Barbers” would be a casualty.
Here in Athens, there is often talk about supporting a living wage. Historically, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department has had difficulty in hiring and retaining quality sworn officers and this is often attributed to the pay and compensation of officers.
We have fallen behind other jurisdictions in our area. With defunding the police, we assure that a LIVING WAGE FOR SACRIFICING YOUR LIFE EVERYDAY will not be provided to those we count on most.
ACCPD is one of the more progressive policing organizations in Georgia. The Athens-Clarke County Behavioral Health Co-Responder Program is an initiative that combines a highly trained sworn officer and an Advantage Behavioral Health clinician to better serve Clarke County residents suffering from mental illness. The initial Co-Responder team has been extremely successful and has received national recognition. Athens-Clarke County Police Depart recently added a second team to this effort. There are many programs design to effectively deal with these situations that would be reduced or eliminated with a reduction in police staffing.
Our officers are here to Serve and Protect. All of our officers have families that they leave each and every day when they report to duty. Most of us do not experience such a commitment to our jobs when we leave out to work every day. Well-trained Police Officers are a vital part of making our communities safe, secure and welcoming and we have some of the best-trained officers anywhere.
Yes, let’s evaluate and make recommendations that will help the Athens-Clarke County Police Department to improve on the services needed and already provided to our community. But don’t erode and destroy a successful department for situations in far away towns of for petty political gain.
The current proposal tells us to defund and them make recommendations. We need to investigate, make recommendations and them implement those to improve the services provided by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and we need to do this with the help of real professionals who have real experience in outstanding policing.
The good news is we already have a department full of them.
Charlie Maddox is a retired director with the Georgia Department of Labor, an Athens pastor, former mayoral candidate, community activist and volunteer whose work is focused on getting housing, food and education to Athens citizens in need.