Being a Community Officer
Long before I thought about making a movie, I was a beat officer in Atlanta and I had the best assignment in the world. The main part of my patrol area was made up of two communities: Cabbagetown and Reynoldstown.
Cabbagetown is an isolated portion of the city that sprung up around the old cotton mill, which is now an elite mass of condos. Hard working families, men and women both tough as nails, and kids came out of that area. And the legends that exist about the shenanigans in this community harkens back to a time where your whole world existed in 15-square blocks. While many of the older residents have left the area, there are some that remain and seeing them in-person is to witness living history.
Reynoldstown was a more diverse community – an area settled by freed slaves along the railroad, this community has a proud history tied to its African-American roots. One of the stories that has been told to me at least twice is that on Sundays, kids from Cabbagetown would go to Reynoldstown for a baseball game where young children of respective races would come together for a day on the field. Afterward, they would each return to their communities and wouldn’t otherwise step foot into the other community until the following Sunday.
Both communities had changed by the time I came into the picture. Cabbagetown had risen as a desirable location noted by a strong community association and a commercial district that brought out nightlife. Reynoldstown is more residential and had seen it’s population change. Slowly gentrifying, older residents moved on and younger professionals took up the area. As I write this, there is a mixed-use development going up where just a few years ago, I had some of my worst robbery calls. Those times are gone. I’m the type of person who says that nothing happens for just one reason. And the changes in those communities are no different. But, one of the assets that both of those communities have are strong neighborhood associations. As a beat officer, I loved the idea of community associations. Not just because they served the interests of the residents overall, but because it was the one place, once per month, where everyone came under one roof to talk about what was happening in the area.
Community Officer Intersects With Neighborhood Associations
Reynoldstown’s meeting was on Monday and Cabbagetown’s meeting was on Tuesday. Each scheduled meeting night, I would pull off the radio, announcing that I was attending a 91M. I’d be greeted at the door by familiar faces, civic-minded residents and business owners who were there for a monthly update. Men, women, and children from the community I police. And they were all familiar to me because I attended every month. As part of my attendance, I was given the task of delivering the crime report. What an opportunity for an eager police officer. To be given a chance to talk about the issues and trends that I was seeing on a monthly basis and get that information shared on a large scale.
Advice and Discussion
“Don’t leave valuables inside your car overnight.” “Call the police if you see something suspicious and we’ll determine whether or not it actually is.” “I know it’s hot, but don’t leave your home’s door open unless you are on the front porch.” After I would address these issues and deliver my opinion on whether crimes were increasing or decreasing, the floor was open to questions. These weren’t questions I’d been given beforehand. These were questions from residents who now had THE police officer that worked THEIR community right in front of them. And we talked.
As a result of my time invested in these neighborhoods, I got to know business owners, residents, children, and even once struck up a conversation with someone who became the artistic director for our film. We had running jokes – the hat I wore to stay within policy so that I didn’t have to cut my hair. I gained their trust – the time person X had a warrant the and the caller wanted me to handle it. They knew I cared – the time I watched security footage and had 3 larceny subjects in handcuffs that night. I had a family – the day my son was born and they passed around our first picture together.
Connecting With the Community
Being a beat officer is about more than answering 911 calls. It’s about getting to know the names, faces, people, and pastime of the community that you walk into every day knowing that you might lay your life down right there in those streets. It’s about becoming part of the history that makes the area rich and taking on the task to leave it a better place than you found it. A good beat officer has two homes: Where he sleeps and where he works. And when you have a relationship with your community, that work is made a lot easier. After all, it is your community.
Patrick W. Shaver is a police officer in the State of Georgia and the filmmaker behind the groundbreaking documentary “Officer Involved.” He has his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University at Buffalo (UB) and Master’s of Conflict Management from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. He is a certified law enforcement instructor and hostage negotiator.
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