Douglasville Police Chief Gary Sparks takes the department's "one with the community" slogan seriously.
Over the course of two days this last week, Sparks once again put the slogan into action by hosting a Chat with the Chief session on March 7 at Martin's restaurant on Fairburn Road and a Community Enrichment meeting at the department's Community House of Hope on March 8.
"It's about bringing change for the betterment of the community," Sparks said during the March 8 meeting. "There's nobody that's trying to get more attention for this. I'm not getting paid any more money for doing this. It's not about me. It's about changing people to change the world."
The Community Enrichment Meeting was the first ever for the police department. The hour-long session focused on purpose and the importance of love in a community.
Love is important in a community because if people love themselves as well as others, then they won't seek to harm themselves or others, Chaplain Dier Hopkins said at the meeting. Hopkins became a pastor years after he was was a drug dealer in his community. His testimony drew more attention to his ministry, therefore bringing more souls to Christ, Hopkins said. One day, Sparks reached out to Hopkins because he said he was tired of locking people up and he needed the minister's help.
The Community House of Hope is located on Hollis Street in a home that used to be used for selling drugs. The former drug-dealing location is now full of signs and flyers with positive messages and programs the police department supports.
The Chat with the Chief resembled a routine staff meeting, except with the beeping machines of fast food and order calls from the front counter as the background noise. Douglasville Mayor Pro Tem Richard Segal and Councilman Chris Watts watched Sparks raise his voice to a volume so that the entire restaurant could hear him. As the Chat with the Chief continued, customers gathered at nearby tables and occasionally turned heads to hear the staff discuss the status of updating the emergency school shooting plan, recruiting more officers, and announcements like the fact that Lt. Ashley Sanders is pursuing his master's degree.
Hopkins also spoke briefly at Wednesday's meeting and he explained the important role ministry plays in changing the mindsets of criminals.
"Hopefully these seeds we plant will keep the city clean," Sparks said. "This is a part of the seeding process."
During the question and answer portion of the chat, officers told restaurant customers that one of the department's goals this year is to reach out to the elderly, that 911 in the county isn't solely for emergencies, and that unmarked cars aren't used to patrol traffic because that's against Georgia law.
The idea to hold meetings and even place the community center out in the city as opposed to the department is because Sparks doesn't want to wait, he said.
His philosophy of going out to the community instead of waiting for the community to come out to these events is similar to Sparks' philosophy on attacking crime, which is to chase down the crime and not sit back as Sparks has previously said. Sparks' challenge to the room of attendees at the end of Thursday's meeting was to bring a friend next meeting, which is on March 22 at 7 p.m. at the Community House of Hope. The plan for the community enrichment program is to eventually clean up the neighborhoods by picking up the litter and reaching out to others to teach the importance of love and purpose.