Anyone who has watched the news in the last year knows that our nation has been unfortunately embroiled in multiple controversies regarding the relationship between law enforcement and their respective communities.
When I arrived for our bi-monthly interview, Mayor Ronnie asked me if I had seen the recent Time magazine cover story entitled, What It’s Like To Be A Cop In America. I had seen it, I had not read it, and he made me a copy. We have talked often about the fact that in any city, large or small, the number one priority, always, is public safety. Without that, nothing else matters. The Time article was extensive in scope, long term in observation, and eminently fair.
In Athens, most citizens, and certainly those involved in law enforcement, believe that “all lives matter,” and not just one people group. Nonetheless, there has been a concerted effort on the part of law enforcement and city government to make sure that this is not just a slogan. It is also important for all residents of Athens-Limestone County to know what is being done to make sure that all citizens are protected, everyone receives equal treatment, and all people feel safe. Mayor Ronnie talked about the candlelight vigil that was held in Big Spring Park to raise awareness of domestic violence, and that Limestone County Sheriff’s Dept new Public Affairs Officer Steve Young told the group about a woman getting killed on his watch in Louisiana, and how it affected him.
“Basically, we are in good shape,” Mayor Ronnie told me, “but all it takes is one thing to go wrong, and that can change in a minute,” he said. He was proud of Athens City Police Chief Floyd Johnson’s efforts to get out in the community, get with the people, hear their concerns, and tell them what is being done to improve service. Mayor Ronnie tied those efforts to the newest season of the Mayor’s Youth Commission, which is just getting started. “The priority of public safety grows as you are around young people,” he said. He then added, “They have got to know that we are here to help,” he said.
Mayor Marks then sent me to Chief Johnson’s office to get more information on what the police department is doing, and my time with him was indeed blessed. He is making a point of having community meetings throughout our area. Sometimes it has been at churches such as Sweet Home, and sometimes in places other than churches. People are free to ask him any and all questions, and he is free to educate people from the perspective of what police officers face in the line of duty. All the way around, this has been a good move, and it is going to continue.
One of the technological advances that has made law enforcement improve has been the implementation of “body cams,” or body cameras. They record a police officer’s complete interaction with a citizen, and, as the saying goes, “You can run, but you can’t hide.” What warmed my heart is that Chief Johnson makes a point of watching the “tape” of at least two body cams per day, and gets back to the officer, regarding where they did well, and where they could improve.
Of course, the down side of body cams is the potential for the invasion of privacy, however, the upside is that it protects both the citizen as well as the officer, and that’s a good thing. I reported back to Mayor Ronnie, told him what I learned, and then it was time for him to roll, but not before we prayed.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner