Something Is Very Wrong With DeKalb’s Police

I’ll start off by saying that I’m grateful for a fast response from the DeKalb Police tonight to a horrible shooting near my home. Two young men from the Aberdeen neighborhood east of Pine Lake are dead.

I was writing on my porch around midnight when the gunshots — some kind of rifle or machine gun, I suspect — woke everyone within a mile of us. It sounded like 30 or 40 shots, rapid fire, louder than anything I’d heard here before. I wanted to dismiss it as fireworks, but the thump had a rhythm and a ring, and it was just too loud. It took a moment for the dread to register.

Facebook lit up. I could hear conversations in the background of the 911 call center, all about the same thing, when my frantic call connected. DeKalb Police had a dozen cruisers there within minutes, the first within seconds.

I don’t mean to detract from that. DeKalb has erased my concerns about response time.

But our county police have had a litany of use-of-force issues arise over the last year, and after what I saw tonight I am beginning to understand why. I found the conduct of officers on the scene to be deeply disturbing, despite the conditions.

For one, DeKalb arrested an Atlanta police officer who lives in the neighborhood. The fellow went to the scene to see if his son had been involved. He identified himself as a police officer. It didn’t matter. Police apparently didn’t give him a chance for that to matter. People at the scene told me they threw him to the ground and used a Taser on him, in front of neighbors who had come out to see what happened.

The crowd screamed at the police, telling them the fellow was a cop, and a neighbor, and belonged there, and it didn’t matter.

I know this man.

We met last year, when I was knocking on doors for Sheriff Mann’s campaign. (I’m not naming him until I’ve had a chance to talk to him.) He had a campaign sign in his yard … for another guy. We talked for a long time about violence in the neighborhood, about Pine Lake’s changing reputation, about policing in general, about politics. The neighborhood looks to this man as an intercessor between themselves and the police. This is the guy that keeps them safe.

Tonight, his wife told me that had he gone armed as he usually does, DeKalb Police would have simply shot him dead.

DeKalb’s recent track record supports her fear. Police shot an unarmed, naked man earlier this year. DeKalb police probably violated their internal use of force rules when they tased a man running from police three weeks ago. The man had climbed a chain link fence when he was hit. He fell and died. And last night, DeKalb Police managed to enter the wrong house, kill the owner’s dog, shoot the startled homeowner … and one of their own rookie cops in an act of friendly fire.

I received DeKalb’s police policy manual in a Georgia Open Records Act request last week. (You may thank me by helping to defray the cost of retrieving it.)

On paper, DeKalb has an extraordinarily progressive use of force policy. In practice, I’m wondering now. I think they’re going to have to charge the cop they tased tonight, just to keep someone from being fired for inappropriate use of force. They’ll do that, even though it may end this man’s career.

I am told half a dozen people had cell phone cameras out tonight, recording the incident. Police shined flashlights into cameras to keep them from recording effectively. I’ve asked people to upload those videos and send them to me.

It is a violation of DeKalb’s Police employee policy book, Section 4-1.16, “to prevent photographers from taking photos at crime scenes, fires, and accidents or at other incidents involving Department employees.” No punishment is named, which makes it a worthless rule. But it’s there.

It’s also a fairly straightforward violation of the 1st Amendment, and the subject of a federal consent decree that Atlanta Police routinely ignores.

Traumatized neighbors in Aberdeen milled around outside of the yellow tape. Young men screamed at the police in anger and at their friends in grief. No real effort came from the assembled sergeants and patrol officers to restore peace in the crowd, except to move the tape back another 50 feet and get pissy at people who asked why. I’m sure I’ll be told that they were doing incredibly important work … standing around watching the crowd go mad, and that no one could be spared earlier for a quiet human word for people unaccustomed to this kind of violence.

Lt. Fonseca, the watch commander (who is generally a standup guy) eventually emerged. I brought the camera problem to his attention. He shrugged, then told me to back off.

I’m not interested in heaping blame on any given police officer tonight. That’s counterproductive. And I’m sure I’ll hear all about how I have no business at a major murder scene (that’s all of 600 yards from my house.) But I believe in seeing things firsthand.

And from what I’ve seen, the force has a systemic problem right now that must be addressed. DeKalb has been bleeding talent to other agencies for years, and it’s become visible. The county has been running police academies to try to fill the ranks, but the exits of veteran officers has accelerated. The result is a police force that is substantially less experienced.

Consider that the county ran five academies between February of 2014 and January of 2015, graduating about 150 police officers. The county has 1060 slots, of which only about 850 are filled. (That was 900 in January.) One sixth of DeKalb Police, today, have less than 18 months of policing experience and the total strength has continued to fall despite a serious recruiting push.

Pay problems contribute to the bleed. A place like Sandy Springs can offer a much better package to an experienced officer. The county pledged to conduct a pay analysis across departments this year. It’s not clear to me how that turned out for police, nor whether a significant increase in police pay will result. Lifestyle issues — like requirements for police to effectively be permanently on call in ways other police departments don’t impose — also factor into the bleed, as does concerns about the health of the police pension fund in light of the county’s shrinking unincorporated tax base.

Events like tonight show how these problems — policy abstractions for quiet neighborhoods — play out in practice on the street. This was a moment when DeKalb Police could have cemented themselves as heroes in the eyes of this neighborhood. Instead, people are angry at them and afraid of them. This, despite gangbangers with heavy weapons killing two people tonight.

What the hell.

53 comments

      • mjhicks says:

        They shouldn’t charge you anything.

        It looks like they provided an electronic copy. I get that from it being a native pdf. As such, they can only charge you the cost of the media (such as the cost of the CD itself). If they emailed it, then it would be free. If they wanted to charge you the coat to retrieve it, then the first 15 minutes of retrieval time is free. I doubt that it would take more than 15 min of staff time to find an electronic copy of their sop on their system and then email it.

        My understanding of the open records law is that it should have been provided at no charge.

  1. Kevin Lawver says:

    Thank you for this. It’s a story that could happen almost anywhere in Georgia and is a great example of the problems with use of force all over the state and even the country. Thank you for writing it!

  2. gcp says:

    Mr Chidi

    Did you see the arrest of the off duty APD officer? If he crossed a police line, he should have been arrested just as any other citizen would have been arrested.

    • George Chidi says:

      No, I didn’t see the arrest. But I was standing in a crowd of twenty people who did.

      People cross police tape all the time, depending on the circumstances. A cop from an agency with a reciprocal operating agreement, who knows a witness, would generally be given that courtesy.

      • gcp says:

        “reciprocal operating agreement” refers to on-duty activities. The APD officer was off-duty and in Dekalb County. Also, did you see cell phone video of the arrest?

        “People cross police tape all the time” If this guy wanted to talk to police, he should have done it from behind police lines.

        I agree there is incompetence in all areas of Dekalb government including pd but you are a bit hasty in your judgement concerning this incident.

    • ChuckEaton says:

      Put yourself in the shoes of a father who was worried his son had been shot. It’s not going to be anyone’s most rational moment.

        • Three Jack says:

          From AJC story – “According to Channel 2, an off-duty Atlanta police officer who lives in the neighborhood was shocked with a Taser and arrested when he allegedly punched a DeKalb officer after crossing the crime scene tape to see if his son was one of the victims”

          His son did not get shot, but was a witness according to Channel 2.

          If he did punch a cop as alleged, then the taser may have been warranted. This should be interesting as it plays out.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    “DeKalb has been bleeding talent to other agencies for years, and it’s become visible.”

    Another reminder of the pervasive incompetence of DeKalb County government—paying severance to well over a hundred public safety employees in about 2011, and then paying to train people (actually multiple people in the case of police, given turnover) for every severance payout.

    • Jiminy Cricket says:

      Thanks, Dave – You found the lede!

      “DeKalb has been bleeding talent to other agencies for years, and it’s become visible.

      The force has a systemic problem right now that must be addressed. The county has been running police academies to try to fill the ranks, but the exits of veteran officers has accelerated. The result is a police force that is substantially less experienced.”

      George this is a good story. It is heartfelt, raw, and done with pride in craft. Yet, too soon to know what happened with the APD Officer, way too soon to judge on that, IMHO.

      Two really good stories in one week – And the week is not yet over. If Mr. Bowers releases his much anticipated report, this could be your grand slam week. Go for it!

  4. D_in_ATL says:

    Why do they kill so many dogs? Is this really a justified SOP or are they in some sort of hyper combativeness state that everything that moves is a target? Whatever it is, it probably wont be long before a toddler gets all shot up. Makes them seem like a bunch of trigger happy amateurs.

  5. Three Jack says:

    DeKalb’s political/bureaucratic system is filled with corruption so it stands to reason that the same will infect many if not all agencies including public safety. The most recent incident where an innocent family witnessed their dog being killed and the father shot in the leg is hopefully the final straw. What a disgrace.

    • George Chidi says:

      When I went to the police line, I ran into people I knew from the neighborhood, people I’d met. This isn’t some group of semi-informed civic illiterates. I knew them because they were registered voters, and I’d knocked on their doors.

      This is the jury pool.

      Last night, police pissed in the jury pool. No one standing there, seeing what I saw, is going to take the word of a DeKalb Police Officer as authoritative ever again in a question about the use of force.

      It’s not corruption, exactly — an exchange of money for some illicit service. But watching police cover their ass in person breaks something essential in the relationship between the police and the public. They lost trust that they will never get back.

      • Jiminy Cricket says:

        George this is so sad if so.

        WE ALL rely on a mere, thin, blue line to keep all that is good and just from predatory evils. I cannot imagine ” — some kind of rifle or machine gun … like 30 or 40 shots, rapid fire, louder than anything I’d heard … the thump had a rhythm and a ring, and it was just too loud,” occurring from MY FRONT PORCH.

        Anyone on PP is only one degree of separation from this awful type of event.

        I do not cast ill will toward those that say, “Well, it’s DeKalb, what do you expect?” I will challenge those folks to disavow this could have been them. We may agree or disagree with George’s politics (I do), but he is a part of this COMMUNITY in which we PARTICIPATE.

        This incident could have occurred from anyone’s front porch. Cobb, GWINCO, or virtually anywhere else in this Country is not immune from gang violence.

        Go a step further with me on this.

        The US is now a community where 30-40 rifle shots, in rapid fire, is not at the absolute center of what happened. Instead, we are rightfully concerned that the Police may have acted harshly in the ‘fog of war.’

        We can talk of improvements; better training, filling Police departures with experienced Officers. All good stuff. Yet the problem is much deeper.

        We are awakening to the fact that our Police are at WAR. The only thing keeping a semblance of peace is our Officers. I know some, we all may.

        America has not yet fully realized a growing number of evil-doers seem to be capitalizing on a media frenzy showing how poorly Police do their jobs. While at WAR.

        Police are facing the modern criminal; a more dangerously brazen, violent, prison-hardened, drug infused menace. Frankly, citizens are inured to the violence with our daily AM news shilling a horrible shooting, a new Police assassination, another school incident, people doing horrible things to each other, to children, even to animals.

        We continue think we are safe; after all, we expect this to happen in DeKalb.

        News Flash: We are ALL DeKalb.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          We’ve paid money to increase the prison-harden cadre for a ridiculous war on drugs. While encouraging the proliferation of guns. The chickens are coming home to roost.

  6. George Chidi says:

    My story just got complicated. DeKalb Police just sent me the police report.

    They claim that Greg Morris, the APD officer in the neighborhood, punched a cop … because he thought it was a Pine Lake police officer harassing him at the scene. (And then people wonder why I show up to things nearby.)

    They also claim he was noncompliant while on the ground, even while surrounded by people with cameras shouting that they saw him trying to be compliant.

    Bodycamera video would have settled this. I’ll bet $5 the officer in question wasn’t wearing one.

    • benevolus says:

      Hopefully good lawyers will be involved and can get that video if it exists. Maybe a crowdfund for legal expenses?

  7. Progressive Dem says:

    Cops have a code with other cops and it doesn’t include tasing one another. There has to be more to the interaction between the on-duty and off-duty police.

  8. elfiii says:

    @ George Chidi – “It’s not corruption, exactly”

    You’re right George. It’s a police state and it doesn’t just happen here in Dekalb.

    In defense of the police they don’t get much respect these days. Regardless of any reasons they provide for that on their own they are “The Law” and that commands a healthy degree of respect if one is to survive in our post modern tyranny.

  9. use to be says:

    Well I will only say this and I am not drawing an opinion just yet. However I can tell you this would have happen anywhere if you cross the police line uninvited even as a off duty police officer. Having said that if he would have approached an Officer, any Officer. I.D.ed himself and informed the officer if he could check and see if his son is one of persons involved there would have been a different outcome in this cases.
    Even if the Officer came back and said someone from CID will be over to talk to you in a few, he would have had his answer.

  10. jo says:

    Your upset because a because a neighbor got arrested, not because your neighbor assaulted a DeKalb Officer and trespassed into a crime scene? The three other incident or not related to the incident in your neighborhood. Different events, different locations etc.. It would be like me staying your corrupt because your a politician and other politicians have been convicted of crimes.
    “I think they’re going to have to charge the cop they tased tonight, just to keep someone from being fired for inappropriate use of force. They’ll do that, even though it may end this man’s career.” Wow that’s quite a libelous statement! Yea, lets throw all the soldiers under the bus because that one guy got drunk and committed a crime in ‘stan!
    Seems like them moving their tape back solved the problem of you guys trying to film a macabre scene and yelling at the police like they caused the shooting. And how do you make the leap from this murder scene to their internal “pay” problems? Aren’t all large police departments constantly running advertisements for hiring to replace the retiring and those who grow tired of showing up at a murder scene to help only to be treated by the residents like they are the bad guys; even by politicians and political commentators? Next time wear a sign that says something like…I’m important, don’t you know who I am or I am city councilman from Pine Lake.
    In one of the new cities, their cops: flubbed a murder case which allow a conspirator to get off with perjury charge, shot and killed a drunk driver as he drove passed because he wouldn’t obey verbal orders from a cop 20 yards away, and had a detective conspire with a Russia mobster which allowed that mobster to avoid a murder charge. Do they have a “systemic problem” ?
    Today I read a story of what the cops are doing right. See the link.
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/277547580/Search-warrants-served-for-DeKalb-ICEO-May-and-two-former-employee-s-emails Yes it’s the DeKalb Police that are still pursuing corruption in DeKalb; not Pine Lake Police or Brookhaven Police or even Lithonia Police. No praise for them from politicians like yourself for their tenacity. It makes me wonder if all this bashing isn’t push back from politicians and their friends.

  11. dw8928 says:

    I’m curious how any officer would be ‘calm’ responding to a call where the perps had the means to fire 40ish rounds. I’d be nervous and put anyone on the ground who acted too cocky in those circumstances. The cops have a Constitutional right to go home alive.

    • Michael Silver says:

      Where in the Constitution do the police have any rights, let alone the “right to go home alive”? Is that hidden in the 14th Amendment like birth right citizenship and gay marriage as well?

      The Constitution provides for defined and limited ‘powers’ to the government. People possess ‘rights’ that the Constitution is supposed to guarantee. The Government has no rights. The police are agents of the Government and as such they do not have any rights in performance of their duties. They have powers.

      Their powers end when their actions trample on the People’s rights. That is the meaning of their oath that they take.

      Use To Be has it right. You enter into a crime scene uninvited, you will be restrained and stopped. If you don’t stop, I’d bet deadly force would be applied to … stop you.

      Dekalb PD investigators would be famously incompetent to allow someone to compromise their investigation by contaminating evidence. The APD officer of all people should have known this.

      Dekalb PD did the right thing and should be COMMENDED for protecting the crime scene and the investigation and the APD officer should be sitting in his Commanding Officer’s office explaining why he should keep his job since he doesn’t respect the investigation process and the job other officers have to do.

  12. elfiii says:

    I was almost with you all the way Michael Silver. All of what you said is true but then there is the matter of the cop shooting the dog, the innocent home owner and his fellow officer, not to mention being at the wrong house. You can only give the po po so much of the benefit of the doubt before the burden of being responsible shifts back to those sworn to “serve and protect”, emphasis on “protect”.

    • benevolus says:

      That’s a whole different case, just to be clear. Judging the merits of one police action based on the circumstances of another probably isn’t really very helpful.

    • Michael Silver says:

      Here’s the sad thing about “serving and protecting”. The Supreme Court has ruled several times that the police have NO DUTY to protect you at all and even if you are getting raped in front of them (an actual example from NY).

      Reading what happened, it sounds like a big guy jumped the police line tape, rushed to the crime scene shouting he is a cop. He wouldn’t stop when told too and tried to assault an officer who got in his way. The APD Officer got the same treatment as you and I would under the circumstances, and that is the right thing to happen

      Now look at it from a crime investigation lens. What if that APD officer was involved and made up a story to “retrieve” his assigned APD rifle from the scene before it was found? When that was learned, we would be correct in claiming that Dekalb PD was covering up for Red Dog Unit #2. And who is to say that APD officer isn’t involved with what we know.

      Frankly, the APD officer needs a new career because he sucks at personal relationships. He could have walked up, flashed his badge and asked to speak to the investigators and then waited behind the line. If he is who George says he is, I’d expect the investigators would talk to him once the scene is secure and they had a free moment. Probably alot sooner than they’d talk with us.

  13. George Chidi says:

    It turns out some of the details I had second-hand are incorrect.

    The police officer did not jump a police line at all. There was no line at the time. Nor did he approach the scene any closer than anyone else in the area. The arrest rests solely on an allegation by DeKalb Police that he struck a police officer. The tasering is predicated on acts of resisting arrest.

    And I don’t believe either thing actually happened. I’ll have more to say about that later, but I want to give the legal process a bit more running room first.

    • gcp says:

      Perhaps you can also explain why two young men are dead. The police did not kill them. What is going on in this neighborhood?

      • joejohns says:

        For some people, police are infallible lords who shalt not be questioned ever. Ever. Police never embellish stories or act in any way that they should not. And they believe that if police are questioned, it has to be on the police’s terms and at police’s permission. Unless, of course, they themselves happen to be mistreated and then they may seek to address the wrong, but in all likelihood they blame themselves and pray to the police for forgiveness. Oddly these are people most vocal about their own liberty and freedom and who have no problem questioning and guarding against overreach by other agents of government…but police, thou shalt not question.

        gcp seems to suffer from this condition, so you may all want to save yourselves time trying to reason with him.

        As a law abiding citizen I support the police, but not in a child-like manner. If I saw these events transpire in my neighbor, I would be equally concerned. Whatever happened, just based on what we know, there was no adult police officer on scene.

        And the cop that got arrested….if you believe that police report, I got a bridge to sell you. You’re telling me that a cop had it in his mind to harm other cops such that he HAD to be tased. He may have been emotional. But that could have been worked out among brothers and sisters…or at least from one parent understanding the concern of another parent. But since they were quick to escalate, here we are.

        And the whole shining flashlights into phones is pure thuggery that should not be tolerated. Citizens have a right to record, let them. If I lived in Dekalb my county leadership would be getting an earful just on that practice alone.

      • George Chidi says:

        GCP, that much, I will be making clear over the course of the next week. I’ll be publishing a series here about it, the policy failures that led to it at the local, state and federal level, and what I think should be done.

          • George Chidi says:

            Here’s the thing. We keep talking about two men being killed like it’s something routine, some product of a dysfunctional neighborhood, something that “the community” should have been able to foresee and forestall.

            GCP, try this headline and lede on instead.

            “Two college-age men in a suburban Atlanta neighborhood were murdered by domestic terrorists with military-grade weapons Tuesday night. The assassins remain at large while their families are left in grief and a community questions their safety.”

            By the debased standards the media normally uses to describe these things, a mass murderer killed two people with an assault rifle two nights ago. (Within range of my house, I note in passing. And, please, I know the term “assault rifle” is made up. Thanks.)

            If this shooting happened in John’s Creek, we would not be talking about “proactive community involvement.” We would be talking about SWAT teams and the Georgia National Guard. The Aberdeen neighborhood is middle class, middle income folks. Teachers, carpenters, accountants, cops. Voters. This whole thing is a nightmare.

            Suggesting that the community bears any more responsibility for it than, say, the folks in Chattanooga do for the attack on the Marine recruiting station is gravely misplaced.

            • gcp says:

              Do you know why these things seldom happen in some communities? Its because residents do their best not to let it happen. Cooperation with police, neighborhood watch, residents watching out for neighbors and most importantly, strong community leaders.

              Now, can you answer basic questions such as did the victims and suspect know each other? Was this some sort of ongoing argument? What do you know about the residents where the shooting occurred? Are they longtime residents or what? We heard much about police behavior, but not much else.

              If you can answer my questions, please go ahead. If not, just ignore me.

  14. jo says:

    So living in the neighborhood some 600 yards from GC’s porch was this shooter. A young peaceful man who was hanging out in his front yard with his assault rifle. One of the deceased was also hanging out with his handgun when another peaceful subject drove by and shot at the three young peaceful men. The peaceful young neighbor picked up his rifle and started spraying rounds and in doing so he killed his two friends.

    All after midnight and we all know how rowdy the the church crowd is after midnight. Sometime after this incident the APD officer came up and detectives saw him punching an officer. …After midnight, off duty and a rather irrational act by the APD officer; was alcohol involved? GC your first claimed to not be a witness to the act by the APD officer and then it was “because he thought it was a Pine Lake police officer harassing him at the scene” and the last claim is “an allegation by DeKalb Police that he struck a police officer”. Which is it?

    The fact is there was a crime scene, tape or no tape and it had to be protected so that the guilty killer of these two collage age men could be held accountable. The Dekalb police were correct in stopping the APD officer from damaging their case. The APD officer knew better! My intuition says this wasn’t a random act and your neighbor wasn’t hanging out with another armed man after midnight because they wanted to get an early start on gardening. I’m not seeing any failures here. http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/2-dead-Atlanta-officer-jailed-after-DeKalb-drive-/nnWtg/

    • georgiahack says:

      So, just the act of being armed after midnight while sitting with a friend makes you think it is more likely that someone is up to no good? I think a lot of folks who are armed 24/7 would have a problem with your “intuition” and insinuation.

    • Michael Silver says:

      So according to Channel 2:

      A silver Cherokee drives by and unloads 30 rounds into the windshield a car in the driveway, most likely automatic fire and close to the car. Round shot pattern at center of windsheild suggests someone had good control of their rifle and intent on where to aim. (I’m assuming they dumped a full mag into the car – 30 rounds in a mag)

      One of the targets hanging out in the yard pulls out his own loaded AR15 rifle and shoots at the car …… but unlike the marksman in the Cherokee, the target shoots his two friends. Killing them.

      Then APD Officer Morris shows up to find his son, who is indeed one of the targets/witnesses/suspects at the house. APD Officer Morris decides that a Pine Lake Police Officer deserved to be punched for not allowing him to extract his adult son from being questioned by the Police.

      This is a fricking tragedy.

      There is so much to this story that hasn’t been said.

    • jbgotcha says:

      Meanwhile, the white family that were victims of a home invasion have been lauded by every news organization and media outlet available for weeks on end. The contrast in how the media reacts to white victims versus the response to black victims is stark.

  15. Jiminy Cricket says:

    It took two whole days to make this story a Black vs. White issue.

    I am disappointed, people, you need to step up – This usually occurs within hours.

    [Sarcasm font OFF]

  16. Michael Silver says:

    George… hope you are still reading this … your story was reposted at Dekalb Officers Speak.

    http://dekalbofficersspeak.blogspot.com/2015/09/what-public-is-thinking.html

    The comments could help your story. Some have validity but one was just priceless:

    “Since Childi knows so much about LE and crime scenes let him have his pubes pulled at the root to compare with others inevitably left any the crime scene. Realize your place and shut the f*** up. F***ING IDIOTS…”

    There is so much stupidity in that statement, its hard to process it.

    • George Chidi says:

      It’s funny. They reprint everything I write. When I’m railing about corruption, they’re cheering. When I’m talking about policing, they’re bitching about anything that doesn’t read like the FOP president wrote it.

      And there’s one commenter there who I suspect is one of the half-dozen resident crazies in Pine Lake. She’s a riot.

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