An officer in the neighborhood: APD program helps officers move into troubled communities

ATLANTA — With crime on the rise in Atlanta, police are taking a new approach to try to stem the violence.

Over a dozen Atlanta Police Officers are participating in the Atlanta Police Foundation’s “Secure Neighborhoods” program.

The program places officers in high crime areas where they are expect to work together to tackle issues in that community.

Not only do they get a down payment on their homes, the officers also get a marked take-home vehicle and a monthly stipend.

The goal is to help officers to build trust in some of Atlanta’s most troubled neighborhoods. .

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Channel 2 Action News reporter Michael Seiden spoke to Lt. Ralph Woofolk who says getting the opportunity to protect and serve in the city he was raised in is an honor and fulfillment of a childhood dream.

“My grandfather was the commander of the Detroit police departments homicide unit, so watching him grow up and him being my idol , the choice was clear for me at 5 years old that I wanted to be in public service.”

But since the George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis a year ago, a death that sparked worldwide protests with millions taking to the streets and demanding racial equality and police accountability, law enforcement agencies are trying to find ways to regain the trust they may have lost with communities of color

“It was a hurtful, hurtful thing to see,” Woolfork said. “So it reiterated the reasons why people are on these protest lines and demonstrating . They are hurt, they’re angry and they are frustrated.”

Woolfork, a 14-year police veteran, is now on a mission to change that narrative.

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On the streets of Vine City, he’s known as Officer Ralph. He’s the Zone 5 Commander and he’s called the historic neighborhood noted for crime problems in the past as his home since 2018.

“Dr. King called it his beloved community. So this is a community that is kind of faced some challenges,” Woolfork said. “I got involved because I was looking to just live in a city. I wanted to be a part of the community in which we serve.”

“We all just want a safe place to live, work and play. And I want to work with the team be in this great community that I live in and helping them to accomplish that goal,” said Woolfork.

Seiden spoke to a mother of three who lived in the Vine City area. She didn’t want to be identified but she spoke about the impact of having an officer living nearby.

“Oh it’s been great. He’s actually a people person and he interacts with the kids,” the mother said.

She was happy to explain how it means even more to her kids.

“My kids love him. I don’t want my kids to feel like if they’re ever in trouble, I don’t want them to feel like they can’t go to an officer and get help because of the stuff they hear,” she said.

14-year old Brianne Williams can remember a time when it was not safe to go outside and play.

“Shootings everywhere . Kids arguing all the time. Fights and conflicts and all that kind of stuff,” Williams said.

Since Officer Ralph moved into the neighborhood, Williams and her friends have had a blast.

“He throws Halloween parties at the park and he’s always providing things for us,” Williams said.

“Do you feel comfortable going to him for help if you need something?” Seiden asked,

“Yes all the time,” she said.

Woolfork isn’t just a role model for some of the kids in this neighborhood, he is also a provider.

“Unfortunately Vine City is kind of a food desert. It’s unfortunate that my house sometimes is the closest place that they can get you to get a banana or an apple,” Woolfork said.

From helping with homework to giving advice or providing second chances for those who just need something productive to do, Woolfork tries his best to make himself available.

“So I’m at home one afternoon and one of my mentees knocks on the door. I knew he had just gotten out of jail for having stolen a vehicle. But he knocked on the door and he said, Hey, Officer, Ralph, I can either go steal some cars tonight, or I can borrow your lawnmower and cut some grass,” Woolfork said.

Stories like that are just one example of why APD believes this program can make a difference.

“I promise you, what they’ve poured into my heart into my family, and just the great people that live in this community. What they have been able to provide to me from a perspective standpoint, from a love standpoint, from a trust standpoint, we all are just working in tandem to accomplish the same goals that we all have,” Woolfork said.

Thanks to a donation by the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, Atlanta Police recruits will soon have housing at Unity Place. The housing unit will allow them to live and learn while experiencing the communities they will serve.

Seiden received a statement from Mr. Blank about why the project was so important to him.

“This project realizes the vision of my dear friend, the late John Williams, and it’s another example of our Family Foundation’s commitment to make a meaningful difference on the Westside. The recruit housing complements the homes already built for veteran officers and the At-Promise Youth and Community Center, and together these efforts provide one of the best examples of community policing in the country,” Blank said

“This project realizes the vision of my dear friend, the late John Williams, and it’s another example of our Family Foundation’s commitment to make a meaningful difference on the Westside. The recruit housing complements the homes already built for veteran officers and the At-Promise Youth and Community Center, and together these efforts provide one of the best examples of community policing in the country.”