Decatur Police: A well-rounded department

Officer C.J. Gresham, who has been with the Decatur Police Department since 1997, types up a police report.

Editor’s note: On March 14-15, Champion reporter Carla Parker rode along with officers from the Decatur Police Department for a 12-hour shift.

When the snowstorm hit metro Atlanta in late January, officers from the Decatur Police Department were out in the streets checking on senior citizens to make sure they had water, food and other items to survive the storm.

For the seniors who did not have those items, the officers would go to the grocery store and buy those needed supplies for them. That is an example of some of the community engagement that the department does that is usually overlooked or not reported in the media.

On March 14, I had the opportunity to go on a ride-along with the Decatur police. The 12-hour shift was enlightening and I saw a side of police officers that not many people get a chance to see.

Officer C.J. Gresham talks to a driver about an expired car tag.
Officer C.J. Gresham talks to a driver about an expired car tag.

The city of Decatur is 4.2 square miles and has a population of 20,148 residents. With 45 officers, the Decatur Police Department not only enforces the law, but also focuses on building a strong relationship with the community.

On Decatur police car is the quote, “partners for a safer community.” During the ride‒along, we patrolled neighborhoods and the business districts in cars and on foot. The officers told me that they do this not just to make sure that no crime is occurring, but also to interact with residents and business owners.

Officer Louis Brown, who has been with the Decatur Police Department for more a year, is well known in the Oakhurst business district on the south side of the city. As we visited each business in the district, I saw how Brown interacted with business owners, employees and patrons.

“It’s important to interact with the business community because it builds a relationship between business owners, the community and law enforcement,” Brown said. “It’s really essential in community policing [because] the community helps law enforcement solve 80 percent of all crimes that are committed.”

Officer C.J. Gresham, who has been with the Decatur police department since 1997, said the department is well rounded.

“We do stuff more professionally and we actually care about our community based on interaction alone,” Gresham said. “When was the last time you went to a bank and saw an officer just walk into a bank if he actually wasn’t conducting business? That doesn’t happen.

“We’re so small and we’re so committed to the community that we’re going to do what we’re supposed to do,” Gresham added. “That’s why the community has that same affection that we have for them.”

As we patrolled the neighborhoods on the north side of the city, I noticed residents waving at Gresham as they rode by and a couple of residents stopped to speak to him, calling him by his first name.

Officer Louis Brown searches the car of a woman who was driving with a suspended license. Photos by Carla Parker
Officer Louis Brown searches the car of a woman who was driving with a suspended license. Photos by Carla Parker

“You get out of the car and talk to people,” Gresham said. “That’s the biggest selling point of our department–that we get out and know our citizens. Our citizens don’t call me officer. When they see me, they call me C.J. When you develop that rapport, that’s when you really have a good base.”

When Brown visited the Oakhurst restaurants and businesses, he addressed each manager and employee by name and asked them if everything was ok with the business. Before he left each business, he asked who was closing and let that person know that he would be back around closing time to make sure the place is locked up safely.

“You really need that relationship between business owners, the community and the police,” Brown said.

The courtesy, professionalism and respect (CPR) that officers show to residents and accused persons is something that Chief Mike Booker preaches to his officers. Gresham said he preaches that same message to his trainees.

“If you’re courteous, professional and respectful, where does the negative image come in?” Gresham said. “It can’t because I’ve done everything I’ve done to be who I am. When you have a positive encounter with someone they’ll tell you ‘thank you.’ That was a CPR encounter.”

Gresham used the CPR method after arresting a woman who was driving with a suspended license. Laura Good was with her 12-year-old daughter when she was pulled over. Gresham did not want to arrest Good in front of her daughter, so he asked her to call someone to pick her daughter up.

Once someone came for the girl, Gresham put Good in handcuffs and took her to jail. Good did not understand why she was being arrested, so Gresham explained to her in a respectful tone why she was arrested and told her what she had to do to fix her situation with her license.

“It’s an administrative process that I have to do,” Gresham said about making arrests. “I treat everyone the same regardless. It’s hard to do but I have to do it. That’s what chief instills in us. You have to treat everybody the same.”

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2 thoughts on “Decatur Police: A well-rounded department

  • March 26, 2014 at 8:36 pm
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    Wonderful article. A truly professional police force.

    Reply
  • September 17, 2014 at 1:43 am
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