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Accountability, trust, reform: Community leaders have questions for Atlanta's next police chief

The various neighborhood leaders represent diverse interests, with a common goal.

ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta is now in the search for a new police chief after Erika Shields resigned Saturday, just hours after an Atlanta police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy's parking lot. 

This is the latest incident bringing criticism to the leadership within the department. As protests sparked around the country against police brutality, Atlanta came under the national spotlight for multiple incidents including when two college students were tased and pulled from their car.

At least five Atlanta officers have been fired between those two incidents. 

Now, as Atlanta begins the search for a new chief to run the department, there is no shortage of questions on residents' minds. 

We reached out to leaders from neighborhood associations across Atlanta to gain insight about what various parts of the city want to know.

Most of the leaders expressed they want the new chief's plan to address issues within the police department and the community. Some touched on the lack of trust between the community and law enforcement, as well as transparency. 

Here's the questions each community leader has for whoever fills the open police chief position (conversations have been trimmed for length):

JLawrence Miller, President, Adair Park Neighborhood Association

  • “What level of accountability will officers have to the citizenry, either through the community policing board or directly through the chief and therefore to the citizens?"
  • "I don’t think that the system has worked. What happened on camera [with Rayshard Brooks] is indicative of when the cameras are not running or when someone walks away and is not beat up or killed. Where is that accountability when there is either an ethical or actual violation of law? How about the police department just says that our policy is public safety and that doesn’t entail everything they take on right now?"
  • “There is no trust. If a police officer comes to my door and I own my house, I’m not gonna let him in. In fact, I don’t want to talk to him. I’m much more like to say, ‘Go away.’ How about creating relationships with those of us in Adair Park, so those of us are more likely to recommend that our kids be a part of an organization like Police Athletic League?"
  • “This is the way that we feel. Every voice, everybody, every home matters. It matters."

RELATED: 'It pissed me off' | Mayor Bottoms vows immediate changes after Rayshard Brooks shooting

Credit: AP
Lighter than normal traffic flow in and out downtown Atlanta Monday, April 6, 2020. Gov. Brian Kemp has issued an order to shelter in place in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Robyn Jackson, President, Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association

  • “I like to say I’ve lived downtown my entire life."
  • "We are really, really concerned about what we can do about homelessness downtown. The number of people camping in Woodruff Park and in Hurt Park by Georgia State, or on church steps, has really gotten out of hand."
  • “We have always had a fantastic relationship with our police precincts, especially Zone 5. They handle pretty much all of downtown. They’ve been there for us, they listen to us, they attend our meetings when we ask.”

Esohe Galbreath, President, Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association

  • “What I’m most interested in are those soft skills: a deep-seated sense of compassion, a general understanding of people. We often talk about order, but we forget about peace … and peace is a large part of what we need right now."
  • “The overall system is in desperate need of reform and change. I believe the system is broken, and not so much all of the people involved in the system."
  • “The city of Atlanta has shown that change is necessary at this point, and we can’t go back to operating as we always have.”

RELATED: 8 officers have resigned in recent weeks, Atlanta Police Department says

David Benson, Transportation Chair, Loring Heights Neighborhood Association

  • “Are we asking too much of our police forces? Part of it comes down to training, and you can’t really train someone to be a social worker, a meter maid, a traffic officer all at the same time."
  • “We deal with heavy traffic. Is traffic enforcement really a core thing the police force should be doing, or is there a better way to handle that?”
  • “We’ve had that good relationship with the police in the past, but I do think there are structural things that we’ve seen – maybe locally, certainly nationally. There are certainly things to address, and now seems to be a good time to do that.”

Courtney R. Smith, President, Midtown Neighbors' Association

  • “Right now, we are not the most important opinion."
  • "Our neighboring communities that are struggling are depending on us to listen and stand ready to collaborate. When it is our turn, we will weigh in for Midtown residents but first we will listen.”

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