Cleveland Spruill, the newly-appointed chief of police for Athens-Clarke County, spoke to members of District 2 on March 4 in the East Athens Community Center about his vision for the police force. This is his second major community forum since he attended a town hall hosted by the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement on Feb. 21.
Prior to coming to ACC, Spruill was the chief of police in Huntersville, North Carolina, which is about 11 percent African-American. Reflecting on this, Spruill said he knows his mother, who died in 2000, would want him to work in a community where he could safeguard a great number of minorities.
Spruill was born the youngest of four children in Queens, New York City. Driven by the crime experienced by his family in the city, his mother later moved the family to Richmond, Virginia, where he also said he experienced high levels of crime as a 14-year-old.
“When I was a kid, in New York and in Richmond, I knew what it was like to be scared to go outside [...] because there was a gangbanger on every corner and a drug dealer at every park,” Spruill said.
In response to listening to attendees and hearing their complaints about posting bail and non-violent offenses. Spruill outlined his vision for an “enlightened, modern, 21st-century” police force with an emphasis on cooperation between the community and the police force, the same phrase he used during the AADM town hall.
“When I was a kid, in New York and in Richmond, I knew what it was like to be scared to go outside [...] because there was a gangbanger on every corner and a drug dealer at every park.”
— Cleveland Spruill, ACC Chief of Police
Spruill has led by example. With a passion for football and the aforementioned community interaction, Spruill had coached youth football for a decade.
“If it’s just the police working to better the community, it won’t be very successful in addressing crime and quality-of-life issues,” Spruill said, “If the community says, ‘I’m not putting up with gangbangers and drug dealers or crime in our community,.’ then that community can have a major impact [on crime].”
Spruill aims to create more avenues for community engagement and partnerships, with one such being the “Cops and Barbers” program originated from Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. With some money already set aside, the program allows officers to take children from the community to barbershops, with permission from their parents, which Spruill said creates a positive relationship between those kids and the officers in their community.
Captain William Hood, who’s spent 29 years with the force, explained all of Spruill’s presented ideas as works in progress but was optimistic about the Spruill’s ideas.
“There’s a positive outlook from the officers and the community … He’s having dialogue, both internally and externally,” Hood said.
A part of Spruill’s vision includes ACC becoming a “procedural just” community where officers treat people with “dignity and respect.” This would be achieved in part through communication between community members and local law enforcement, Spruill said.
ACCPD could also be improved, the new chief said. Spruill hopes to achieve such a community with the help of a “highly-trained and well-equipped” force while maintaining and improving diversity in the police department.
“That vision ends with [a] safe community, low crime rate and that the community trusts, values and supports the police department,” Spruill said.
“Here’s where my views and opinions go away from [how] many law enforcement might feel. Our system is set up to help people fail, particularly people of color. For low-level, non-violent, criminal offenders, we’ve really got to find a way to be better.”
— Cleveland Spruill, ACC Chief of Police
Mariah Parker, District 2 commissioner, attended the event to reach out and hear the concerns of her constituents.
“There’s a lot of issues that we face, being a very poverty-stricken community, where there are folks out and about who may be vagrant who may be homeless [...] and a lot of people wanted to see them gone,” Parker said, “Some of his responses acknowledge that these [people] are people, and if they’re not breaking [any laws], you have to leave them alone.”
Although Spruill praised the police department’s handling of serious criminal offenses, he was critical of, in his eyes, the department’s handling of lesser crime.
“Here’s where my views and opinions go away from [how] many law enforcement might feel. Our system is set up to help people fail, particularly people of color,” Spruill said. “For low-level, non-violent, criminal offenders, we’ve really got to find a way to be better.”