Athens has seen six officer-involved shootings this year, five of which have been fatal. Now, Athens-Clarke County Police Department is responding with changes to their policies regarding armed persons or alleged domestic violence calls where an individual reportedly has a weapon.
Moving forward, the department’s updated policy is that responding officers will stage away from an incident prior to proceeding to the scene, said ACCPD Chief Cleveland Spruill, Sr. The exception is in cases where there is an active threat of violence against the public.
Spruill said this will allow personnel to evaluate the situation and create a plan before responding.
One of those plans could be assigning an officer to deploy a less lethal force device, like a taser, and assign responsibility to a second officer to deploy deadly force if necessary, Spruill said.
Athens-Clarke County District 6 Commissioner Jerry NeSmith said the update is a step forward.
“It’s very likely to be effective avoiding further police shootings and injuries from people threatening themselves with a weapon,” NeSmith said.
The memorandum states that these changes are to “enhance officer safety by ensuring that officers maintain a tactical advantage over armed and/or dangerous suspects.”
Previously, ACCPD Central Communication has dispatched a supervisor and two officers on calls involving domestic violence or armed suspects, according to Geoff Gilland, the ACCPD public information officer.
Ensuring that multiple officers respond to these type calls may also reduce the need for, or likelihood, that higher levels of force will be necessary and, where it is safe and appropriate to do so, will afford officers the opportunity to deploy less lethal tactics and/or technology as opposed to deadly force,” Spruill said.
Gilland clarified this is not a new policy. He said the department has attempted to send two officers and a supervisor on calls like this.
This year, there have been two officer involved shootings where just one officer responded.
On Oct. 5, one officer responded to a domestic violence call, according to ACCPD. When he responded, 28 year-old Salvador Salazar lunged at the officer with a machete. Salazar was shot in the torso but was not killed.
A little over a week later, on Oct. 14, a lone officer responded to a call about a suspicious person off Tallassee Road. Once on the scene, Bonny Thomas charged towards Senior Police Officer Lamar Glenn with a knife. The officer shot her in the torso, and she later died from her injuries at a local hospital.
Athens-Clarke County Police Department’s Staffing
ACCPD currently has 40 sworn officer vacancies out of the 254 positions. Gilland said 5 officers are expected to be sworn in December, which will fill some of those positions.
“We definitely have a staffing issue. It’s high,” NeSmith said.
Gilland said it was not a staffing issue as to why only one officer responded to these cases. Instead, it was because the department and the officers did not know the nature of the incident until authorities arrived on the scene.
NeSmith said he doesn’t think the staffing issue will affect calls concerning domestic violence or an armed person.
“These kinds of calls will take precedence,” NeSmith said.
Gilland said these calls are prioritized, but staffing does play a role in response time.
He said if a domestic violence or armed person incident happens downtown, there are more resources, such as officers on call, available in comparison to if the incident happened in a rural area.
Ashlyn Webb is a senior journalism major in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and an international affairs major in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia.
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