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Cleveland Spruill, the new police chief of Athens, Georgia, speaks at the Police Community Engagement Forum at the East Athens Community Center on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Spruill hopes to create a better relationship between the police department and the Athens community. (Photo/Jason Born)

Athens Clarke-County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill held a discussion on policing with community members in Athens District 5 at Chapelwood Methodist Church on April 30.

Spruill and the ACCPD will have a similar discussion in all 10 Athens districts. The discussion focused on effective ways of policing and the importance of community involvement when addressing crime.

“The most effective crime-fighting tool that any law enforcement agency or any police chief has are the eyes and ears of the vigilant community,” Spruill said. “You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish with the community as far as reducing crime and increasing the quality of life in the community.”

Improving the lack of information coming from police to the community and vice versa can help bridge the gap between police and the community, District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson said.

“It’s going to make us have a safer community — a police department that’s more trusted and a police department that’s more effective,” Denson said.

Mike Hunsinger, ACCPD deputy chief, shared a similar sentiment.

“We want to establish regular dialogues with the community,” Hunsinger said. “Whether it’s meetings like this or if they feel comfortable coming to us with concerns, we want to see some consistency with this.”

The model of policing that Spruill is implementing is a police department that is rich in diversity, highly trained, well equipped, community oriented and “intelligence led.” The goal is to reduce crime while increasing the quality of life in the community and the community’s trust in the police department.

Spruill addressed the importance of training police to know they have biases and letting the police know that their biases shouldn’t affect the way they communicate with the community. Six uniformed ACCPD officers attended the discussion.

“If they’re right I’m going to step up in front of a mic and say they’re right,” Spruill said regarding officers’ interactions with the community. “If they’re wrong, I’m going to say they might not have gotten it right that time but think about the difficult job they do.”

The ACCPD has a new program called “Cops & Barbers” that aids kids in disenfranchised communities. Through the program, officers ask the kids’ parents if they can take them to the barber shop, and the mission is to bridge the gap between police and the community while giving kids a mentor.

Spruill also wants to see a form of criminal justice reform that has resources go towards jail deterrence for low-level, non-violent offenders who suffer from mental health, drug addictions and generational poverty.

The meeting closed with a discussion on the need for more officers in ACCPD. Spruill wants to hire more qualified people and wants to see the community help recruit a diverse police department.

“This has to be just a start,” Denson said. “We need to be having these type of meeting regularly.”

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