On Thursday, March 9, the Gwinnett County Police Department (GCPD) hosted a community meeting at the Universal Church in Norcross. The purpose of the meeting was to hear and address concerns of citizens, especially about the safety of young people in the Hispanic community.
The Police Department was represented at the main table by Chief J.D. McClure, West Precinct Commander Major Jordan Griffin, Criminal Investigations Section Commander Major Eric Wilkerson, Chief Assistant District Attorney Lisa Jones, and Special Investigations Section Commander Major Chris Marion. In addition, several other GCPD officers, primarily from the West Precinct, were on hand to work with people individually.
With the emphasis of the meeting being on the Hispanic community, two translators were on hand to make sure every question, answer and discussion was presented in both Spanish and English.
Building bridges with the community
Chief McClure opened the meeting by speaking about the department and its relation to the community. “The reason we are here tonight is to let you know that we are servants of this community,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to keep you safe.”
McClure said this meeting was just one example of how the department is trying to build bridges with the Gwinnett community. Due to the fact that there can be a lot of misinformation from outside sources, he encouraged those attending to listen to the department’s messages and communications.
West Precinct Commander Major Jordan Griffin briefly spoke next. The West Precinct covers the area from the DeKalb County line to Beaver Ruin Road and from Highway 29 to Peachtree Corners, which includes Norcross. Griffin said there are 70 officers assigned to the Precinct and that there are native Spanish speakers and translators of other languages on every shift.
One message that Griffin delivered was emphasized more than once during the night. He encouraged people to call 911 if there was an emergency situation. “It is not our job to deport people or check immigration status,” he said. “Our job is to help when people in the community are victims.”
There’s good reason to call GCPD in an emergency. It is a full service police agency with 690 sworn officers and over 300 professional staff members. Officers get 23 weeks of basic training and are appointed to specialized positions only after several years of patrol experience.
Lively Q&A session
When the meeting was opened up for questions, there was excellent participation from the people attending. More than 20 people took turns asking questions about issues that affected them directly or affected the community as a whole.
The issue of illegal fentanyl distribution and overdoses was the first concern raised. McClure noted that GCPD has 10 investigators assigned to the problem, and that every overdose case was investigated. Every GCPD officer is trained on and issued NARCAN spray to properly respond to overdose cases.
Several audience members asked what the community could do to support and help the police. The officers at the meeting recommended the public get in touch with the Precinct Commander for their area (Major Jordan Griffin for the West Precinct) and continue to attend public meetings like this one.
To get an in-depth understanding of how the GCPD works, attendees were encouraged to participate in one of the many programs the department offers to the public. A popular one is the Citizens Police Academy program.
The Academy provides citizens a hands-on understanding of police responsibilities including the police department and jail tours, vehicle pullovers and the Firearms Training System, which is a computer simulation of shoot/don’t shoot situations.
Tough questions, honest answers
Some of the questions that were asked addressed some aspects of policing that have been in the news lately. To the department’s credit, they answered the questions frankly and directly.
When he was asked how GCPD felt about cops on duty being filmed by citizens, McClure said, “that is not a problem at all” and noted that all officers are equipped with body cams.
One attendee asked what the department felt was the best way to have officers diffuse tense situations without needing to use violence. McClure replied that training was the key to this.
He noted that the state of Georgia requires 400 hours of training, but GCPD provides over 800 hours. He also pointed out that the department has a behavioral health unit that deploys mental health clinicians to calls as appropriate.
Another difficult question regarded whether there was racial bias in policing. Again, McClure gave a straightforward answer. He acknowledged that there have been incidents at some departments around the nation, but he does not see it as a problem at GCPD.
“My goal is to make sure the GCPD treats everyone in an unbiased and open manner. We hire officers of the highest caliber,” he said. It was also noted that the overwhelming majority of the reports of misconduct come from within GCPD itself, showing that they are doing a good job of self-monitoring.
Several attendees asked questions about incidents specific to them or their families. When it was inappropriate to give direct answers in such a public setting, the attendee was referred to one of the GCPD officers there to discuss the case outside of the meeting room.
Police and community working together
One of the most interesting questions was what the officers of the GCPD wished people knew about being on the force. “It’s a great career,” Major Marion replied. “The only one I’ve had. I grew up in Gwinnett County and I wanted to serve the community. When we’re out in public wearing our uniform, it’s clear that the community supports us.”
Major Marion, Commander of the Special Investigations Section, added, “It’s not like it is on TV. I wish we could solve every case in an hour. We can’t. But we put in a lot of hard work.”
The great turnout and participation at the meeting demonstrated that Gwinnett County citizens truly appreciate and support the work of the GCPD.
For more information on any of the services the Gwinnett County Police provide or to sign up for one of the many programs the department offers, contact them at 770-513-5700.