To make the community safe, citizens must operate as one.That was the message that Douglasville Police Chief Gary Sparks said he wanted to convey through his Community Trust meeting held on Tuesday, Oct. 11.
The Douglasville Police Department hosted the two-part event and extended invitations to various law enforcement and court officials. Among the speakers for the two sessions were representatives of the Douglas County Fire Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Douglasville Police Department, as well as Douglas County District Attorney Brian Fortner and Dion Lyons from the U.S Department of Justice.
In the morning session, Dion Lyons conducted a presentation on the definition of policing, and the process by which a traffic stop can be made. Along with the presentation on these items, an open discussion on the definition of racial profiling and the meaning of bias was held as well.
"The Department of Justice Community Relations Service was established to ease social tensions beginning in 1964," Lyons said. "We are here to provide services, mediation, facilitation, training, and consulting for the community and anyone that needs our assistance."
During his presentation, he discussed the need for open conversations to exist and that it is important to be able to view an issue from both viewpoints. He also led the discussion on what is considered reasonable suspicion and probable cause along with examples of each.
Chief Sparks also took the opportunity to inform attendees of the numerous outreach programs that the Douglasville Police Department is involved in. Sparks said, "We practice transparency and ownership in our department." Sparks talked about his belief that the work of building trust begins internally, and that his officers are treated like family and respected so that when they go on patrol they show that same respect.
Some of the initiatives Sparks focused on were the Citizens Police Academy, Hollis Street-Douglasville Community Outreach Program, and Youth Against Violence, a program that the department has held for 10 years. Sparks said "the goal is to develop relationships between the community and law enforcement. We do best when we work together."
The evening portion of the Community Trust meeting focused on the DPD's use of force policy, officer involved shootings, and fire safety and prevention.
Fire Chief Scott Spencer stressed to attendees the importance of checking the batteries in their smoke detectors and reminded residents that if they did not have a smoke detector, the department can install one in their home for them.
Spencer said, "Make sure that you have an evacuation plan, a location to meet up once outside of the house, and that all family members are aware of your medical history. It could save your life."
Spencer cited electrical issues and cooking left unattended as the most common causes of house fires, and reminded residents to be careful when cooking or using open flames for any reason.
Both the Douglasville Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff's Office went over their use of force policies and provided tips on how to make traffic stops run smoothly.
The topic of officer-involved shootings was discussed to shed light on the process taken after an incident. Fortner explained that the GBI does the investigation on the incident and all material that he focuses on comes from their investigation. He acknowledged that the law enforcement agency involved will also conduct an internal investigation, but he reiterated that his focus is on the findings of the GBI and it is that evidence that he would use to make his decision.
In order to understand the correlation between perception and stress that officers face, two citizens participated in the DPD simulator where they encountered virtual scenarios that required them to decide whether to use lethal force.
Sparks ended the meeting with reminders for citizens to come out for DPD's Fall Festival on Nov. 5 at the police headquarters on Fairburn Road, as well as to participate in the department's initiatives.