By Ted Terry, DeKalb County Commissioner, Super District 6
DeKalb County made national news a few weeks ago because of a New Yorker article, Why did the police shoot Matthew Zadok Williams?
The article was about an incident that many here read in the local newspaper or saw on the 6pm news a few months ago. Indeed, this tragedy, along with the countless others that have occurred across the country, are undoubtedly very familiar to the millions of Americans who are calling for meaningful reforms to our criminal justice and police systems. As familiar as they seem to us, there are very few cases that are clear-cut and have much more complexity than a short news clip can hope to explain. But when a 5,000 word article makes national news and contains more detail than our local news, more questions are created than answers given.
Days later, I wasn’t surprised when my office was inundated with emails and social media posts, demanding answers on how DeKalb executives would prevent this kind of police violence from happening. reproduce and ensure the safety of our communities without continuing to fuel the system of mass incarceration. . One of those emails was from my good friend John Jackson, chairman of the DeKalb County Democratic Committee.
John is a leader who has worked tirelessly to elect Democrats from top to bottom, engaging new and old voters and eliminating them in record numbers and handing Georgia over to President Joe Biden and Senators Warnock and Ossoff. DeKalb County was on the tongue of political pundits and locals, and that was because of the Democrats in DeKalb. We owe this man a lot of respect and thanks, and when he emails elected leaders, we listen. But not just because of his political title – but because of what he stands for; a Democratic Party that campaigned on criminal justice reform and a promise made to hundreds of thousands of Dekalb voters to address the racial inequalities and injustices that exist in so many systems in our society today. He deserves an answer on what we, the people elected to lead DeKalb, are doing about it and how we are doing it. You too, and you deserve a transparent answer.
What you read will not satisfy everything you are looking for answers for. Indeed, the GBI investigation into the officer involved in the shooting is still ongoing. But hopefully you will see some solutions to dramatically reduce the possibility of incidents like this happening again. Below is part of the email response I provided:
———- Message forwarded ———
From: Ted Terry
Date: Sun Jul 11, 2021 @ 9:51 am
Subject: Re: Zadok Williams – What are we going to do about it?
Thank you for your email. I have no new information to share and cannot comment on the ongoing investigation.
What I can report is that under the leadership of CEO Thurmond and the Council of Commissioners, the DeKalb Police Department is dramatically expanding community policing and mental health services across the county, and is changing to a good extent. regards our approach to community safety at DeKalb.
Currently under review in our mid-year budget (to be voted on July 27) and the CEO’s proposed US bailout budget, we are doing the following:
– Hire up to 4 crisis nurses Integrated as a co-responder unit with DeKalb PD, this will provide greater coverage, greater capacity and greater expertise when 911 calls indicate a mental health issue is involved. This is a partnership that has existed with the DeKalb Community Service Board for more than a decade thanks to the direction of Commissioner Larry Johnson. Now this program is being expanded and improved to meet the current needs of the community. A related funding item under the US bailout budget proposal voted on earlier this month will allocate an additional $ 1 million to continue the CSB’s mobile health and tele-mental health services, and the program residential opioid treatment which has had a tremendous success rate over the past 12 months. it worked. This program continues for another 12 months.
– New community service aids unveiled at the end of June last week are an important first step in reallocating armed officers to focus on responding to violent crime, while more routine calls will be partly handled by these new positions. Other jurisdictions are even considering taking traffic law enforcement in this unarmed paradigm, reducing the possibility that an officer will fire at a routine traffic stop. We should continue to expand this program if the pilot effort proves effective.
– Increase funding for the DeKalb Police Athletic League, with a new staff, a new building and additional means of transport. I know how much of an impact this program can have. As Mayor of Clarkston, we contracted DeKalb PAL every summer to host a midnight basketball league that engaged over 150 Clarkston area youth aged 14-22. Years ago, I was inspired by what is possible in a well-funded PAL program, after watching a Los Angeles episode of HBO Real Sports featuring the “Watts Bears”. Besides being smart to have police officers as after-school coaches and mentors for community cohesion and confidence-building purposes – ANY expansion of after-school programs for underserved communities has taken place. proven to reduce income disparities in graduation rates and undoubtedly, if fully funded, can cut the pipeline from school to prison. We must continue to expand PAL services as well as work with the Board of Education to ensuring universal access after school and early learning opportunities. Dollar for dollar, these programs are the best investments society can make in our youth.
– Presentation of a violence interruption program, in partnership with John Jay College; another proven program to reduce violence, with a particular focus on conflict resolution, mental health services, counseling and mentoring to reduce conflict lethality. There are opportunities for expansion in the future, which might involve how we integrate these programs into our school system, to address youth violence.
– Service and retention bonus – this one is more nuanced than simply paying the cops more than $$; and recognizes that as police services increase training, those officers become more valuable and keeping the officers we spend a lot of time and resources training will stay with the service. I think this trend will be positive if we start to move in the direction of other advanced economies and public safety in a very rigorous and highly educated profession. However, in the meantime, there is substantial evidence that in the short to medium term, having additional patrolling and response capabilities does reduce violent crime. Ezra Klein recently discussed this paradigm on his podcast with guest James Forman Jr.
As you and I know, elections matter. Democrats were elected in Georgia with the belief that we would advance criminal justice and policing reforms, invest in our communities, and change the systems of inequity that still exist in the 3,000 counties of the United States. These investments here in DeKalb County will make a difference; but we can always do more. We can always learn, adapt and reform this way, we examine the issues and keep pushing forward the progress we desperately need.
When I was elected in 2020, I presented myself on these issues, and my criminal justice reform platform was centered around the concept of “civilian-led police” which is essentially a systems level change that will create a permanent connective tissue between the police and the community they serve. Similar to the DeKalb Board of Health, a civilian council oversees our county’s public health system. Why can’t we do this for our public safety system? The good news is that other large police services are already experimenting with this model. NYC this year will deploy their civilian community councils who will contribute to the direction and basic hiring in each police station. We should monitor this program and consider a pilot project to move in the same direction of what is a truer form of “community policing”.
Finally, I would suggest that you and others (including me!) Want to see these reforms continue and progress; work with Commissioner Mereda Davis-Johnson as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Employee Relations and Public Safety Committee (ERPS). At recent ERPS meetings, we discussed the possibility of a Civilian Advisory Council similar to Gwinnett County initiative launched this year. Let’s talk more about that!
These reforms and policy changes cannot happen overnight and will indeed be a long difficult task as some will not want to see these changes… But as President Obama said “The change will not come if we wait for another person or another time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.“I have no doubts that we here in DeKalb County Government, with the support of community and political leaders like you, will bring about the change that we seek.
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