Hail to the Chief
To protect and serve: it's what our boys in blue dedicate their lives to every single day. But in this heightened socio-political climate, it's hard to remember how incredibly passionate the police force is about keeping us safe.
To protect and serve: it's what our boys in blue dedicate their lives to every single day. But in this heightened socio-political climate, it's hard to remember how incredibly passionate the police force is about keeping us safe. We spoke to some of the South's greatest leaders in social justice, from Atlanta's game-changing chief to Savannah's empowering new leader, about rebuilding trust and forming strong alliances within their own communities.
Chief George Turner – Atlanta Police Department
Chief Turner has been a police officer for over 35 years. As chief of police Metro Atlanta, he boasts a department of officers that are of the same ethnic diversity and background as the city itself.
What ranks among the favorite achievements that you've completed in your career and why?
The fact that I'm an Atlanta native and I've been able to climb the ranks from a patrol officer to the chief of police is a dream come true. My career has come with some challenges as would be expected when serving in this type of position. However, the successes far outweigh the challenges. As a leader, I'm proud that others have been able to move into positions such as chief of police – I believe that the best leaders help create other leaders.
What initiatives are you working on right now?
Right now we are focusing on our Video Integration Center, which is a great example of how the public and private sector can work together. We have access to 6,200 cameras in the metroplitan area and we only own five percent of them. The rest are owned by business owners, colleges, etc. This gives us accountability of our officers but also helps us respond quicker to incidents and keep public safety at a premium. We are smarter than we've ever been.
What is one perception citizens have of police officers that is misunderstood?
Citizens tend to forget that we are human, we have feelings and a heart. Behind the badge uou will discover people who are just like the citizens we serve, from various walks of life and varying personal experiences. We want the same things most people want in life: to be happy, do the things we like, enjoy our families and live our dreams.
Chief Joseph Lumpkin – Savannah Metropolitan Police Department
Chief Lumpkin has been in several police departments since 1970. In 1992, he was named police chief of Toccoa, Ga., and in 1994, became police chief of Albany, Ga. On Jan. 13. 1997, Lumpkin was sworn in as police chief of Athens-Clarke County, where he remained until he was sworn in as police chief of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department on Nov. 10, 2014.
What factors contributed to you pursuing a career in law enforcement?
In 1970 I was a student at the University of Georgia. The 1964 Civil Rights Act had passed, but had not really been accepted in the South as many governors and others led resistance. The country was attempting to stabilize from an era of integration, particularly in the South. Tragic shootings of students had occurred at Kent State and Jackson State during the spring of 1970. In Athens, the local high schools were desegregating and civil unrest occurred. A number of white and black UGA students thought the police response should have been better. The Athens mayor, Julius Bishop encouraged us to join the police department. He stated to us that members of the police department told him blacks could not pass the tests to be promoted. Mayor Bishop said if we could pass the entrance requirements at his alma mater, we surely could pass the tests at the Athens Police Department. He stated police departments were closed systems and, very much like wagon trains circling the wagons to fend off attacks, and that police departments did not change very often due to external pressures. He asked us to help him from within the police department to make the changes we voiced.
In today's political climate, allegations of police brutality are rampant, what do you say to those citizens who feel they cannot trust and/or count on the police protecting them?
Public safety is a shared responsibility between our police and our citizenry. Police officers today are more professional and diverse than at anytime in our country's history. We handle hundreds of thousands of calls for services daily, as well as individual engagements, in competent, pleasing modes. Having said that, we also hire human beings and humans are not perfect – although in the SCMPD, perfection is our goal. As police chief in Albany, Ga., in the mid 1990s, I wrote orders and placed tape recorders on officers to negate complaints and demonstrate the realities of police-citizen encounters. As a profession, we must continue to work to build a community trust through transparency, 21st century police training, active supervision and moral leadership.
Chief Mark Revenew – Pooler Police Department
Chief Revenew has been a police officer for 34 years, two of them in the military police and the rest as an officer of the Pooler Police Department.
What is the biggest issue your preceinct deals with on a day-to-day basis?
Our agency of approximately 50 officers handles with the gamut from domestic disputes, traffic accidents, thefts, conflict resolution and most importantly, coming to the aid of just about anyone who asks. That's why I always laugh when people think TV shows like Cops are accurate. They never show an officer helping a stranded motorist or aiding a homeless or special needs person.
How do you like to spend your time off?
I have two beautiful daughters that I missed a lot of their childhood, school events and ballgames due to the demands of being on 24-hour call as a detective for 20 years. So as my career dwindles towards the end, I would like to spend more time with them and make up for those lost times. I also love playing hockey, which is a great way of staying fit and working off aggression. I especially love traveling. I've been to numerous countries and I love experiencing the different foods, cultures and history.
Are there any unique challenges and/or rewards that come with being a chief?
It's nice to be recognized at the local restaurant and catch up with people you've known for decades. Oftentimes people will consult and respect your opinion in helping them with their personal problems. In a small town it's also nice to watch a city grow, evolve and thrive. It's enriching to watch a local businessman hang their shingle one day and grow into a successful, renowned and national company, or watching young kids grow into successful adults and have families of their own. It's a little circle of life and karma that you get to see. Even the local curmudgeons and eccentrics add color and flavor to a small town.
What issue are you especially passionate about?
A major problem facing our country is drug abuse and (addcits') repeated and subsequent incarcerations. I would love to see police spend less time sending these addicts to prison and instead enlist and join the medical community in weaning these people from their addictions. One of the worst challenges is watching illegal and prescription drugs devastate entire families. It's such a common thread that everyone knows someone or experienced it. I've seen so many promising bright people throw their future away for a temporary euphoria.
Chief David Lyons – Garden City Police Department
Chief Lyons started as a street cop in 1971, eventually becoming a part of the military police corps. He has been the chief of the Garden City Police Department for 14 years.
What factors contributed to you pursuing a career in law enforcement?
Honestly, being a police officer was the furthest thing from my mind when I was younger. I was in the restaurant business and worked as a manager of a restaurant where police officers used to frequent. One day they invited me on a ride-along and I was hooked from the start. I immediately thought, 'This is what I want to do.'
What is your policy of law enforcement in our society?
There has to be a balance of upholding the law and taking care of your community. It's not about the money, it's about what can we do to make the streets safe. In doing that, there is more than one way of enforcing the law. I read every piece of paper the department generates every single day; it's my way of keeping everyone honest and making sure everyone is being treated fairly.
Who or what are your biggest inspirations?
I get to go to work everyday with the best people in the world. I'm one person, the coach and cheerleader, and I would not be successful if not for the people i have working with me.
Chief Robert Bryson – Tybee Island Police Department
Chief Bryson has been a police officer for 26 years. He started working for the Tybee Police Department 16 years ago and has been there for six years.
What is the biggest issue your department deals with on a daily basis?
Because Tybee is a small community and a vacation destination, we are constantly reintroducing people to the rules and regulations. People are always having a good time and you want to do your best not to ruin that, but things can get out of hand quite easily. Our first instinct isn't to arrest someone; we want to open the lines of communication and resolve situations in a way that benefits both parties.
What is your favorite part of going to work everyday?
I'm a parent and I have a very paternal outlook on the police department. I love working with my police officers and my city manager, all of whom are incredibly intelligent and talented people. I love to stand behind when they get the praise and stand in front of them if they need protecting. We are all so community-oriented, and without them I would not have the opportunity to do what I need to do.
What is your philosophy of law enforcement?
Helping others be the best they can be. I get to help people all day long, whether it's citizens or police officers, their success is my success. Someone believed in me enough to get me where I am today and I want to provide for other officers and citizens of the community in any way I can and pay it forward. Things have changed. We have much more accountability and everything is out there in the open. We have an incredible opportunity to foster relationships with the community that we haven't had before.
To read more about the police chiefs and their departments, check out June/July issue of South magazine.