ATLANTA — Almost two dozen police officers from all backgrounds agreed to talk exclusively to Channel 2 Action News about recent sickouts and the lack of response to violence we’ve seen over the last few weeks.
Channel 2′s Michael Seiden spent hours talking to 21 officers with the Atlanta Police Department about why they don’t feel like they can do their jobs properly in the wake of protests against police brutality -- and the death of Rayshard Brooks at the hands of an APD officer.
Channel 2 has agreed to conceal these officer’s identities and change their voices because of what might happen by them coming forward. They span all ages, ranks and genders, and they wanted to address what they consider to be misconceptions about the Atlanta police force.
Seiden said this was an extremely risky move by these officers to speak out. Many have families who depend on their paychecks and by speaking to Channel 2, and they knew they were risking their livelihoods.
“We’re giving you our truth,” one officer said. “We’re not supposed to be doing this. We’re not just our oath. We’re human beings. We love policing. We love this city.”
They said despite the recent protests, they consider themselves all part of the same family.
“This is a very diverse city,” one officer said. “And they keep painting it as if it’s us against them.”
“We risk our life for EVERY citizen,” another officer said.
According to the police union, African Americans make up 65% of the Atlanta Police Department.
Several officers told Seiden they felt like they had no other choice but to speak out because they don’t believe the public is getting their message.
“I’m sick of having to be seen and not heard,” one officer said. “We got to be talked at and talked about and handled like we’re criminals. And we’re not allowed to stick up for ourselves or say anything about it.”
These officers said that although protests in Atlanta are nothing new, the ones that unfolded on the streets following the death of George Floyd were unlike anything they had ever seen before.
"We're being asked to stand in front lines where people are throwing rocks and bottles and fireworks at us," an officer said. "And we're told we can't arrest people who are committing aggravated assault on us. So we're supposed to stand there and be abused."
The officers that we talked to said that these days, when it comes to the court of public opinion, no officer stands a chance, even if the use of force is justified.
“If we had that type of corrupt department where we had so many officer-involved shootings where we actually killed someone, we would’ve had more protests and more action than we have had,” one officer said.
But Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said not all officers are following the law. Since June, Howard has filed criminal charges against eight APD officers in two separate incidents. Those include charges filed against Garrett Rolfe, who is now charged with felony murder in the June 12th shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.
“Not once has the police department stood up and said, ‘We take responsibility for the death for Rayshard Brooks,’” Howard said. “And we’re going to work with the community and the DA to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But rather than to do that, what they’ve done is to say, ‘Well, let’s just blame the DA.’”
Howard, who is up for reelection and is currently in a runoff against Democratic challenger Fanni Willis, said his decision to charge the officers was based on the law and not politically motivated, despite what critics say.
“Every day in this city, Black men like myself, and Black mothers, we are talking to our children. And what we’re saying to them is, ‘You’ve got to be careful,’” Howard said. “They aren’t warning them to stay away from the DA.”
Officers said this is, in fact, all about politics, and that the decision to charge officers without allowing authorities to complete their investigations has created a chilling effect throughout the APD.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, 31 people were shot in Atlanta, including five victims who died. Police say that violence could have been prevented.
"We're reactionary at this point. We're there to react when something happens, but proactive is gone until we get clarity from our mayor, and our council and our leadership," one officer said.
"When you go out there and proactively find it, and you're dealing with trying to take guns off the streets and dealing with drug dealers and gang members, if you find it, you're going to have to try to make the arrest. And in those cases, people resist. And right now if we use force, we're going to be terminated."
Officers are also accusing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of fueling the narrative of defunding the police and attacking officers who are following the policies and procedures set forth by the city council.
Over the weekend, Bottoms fired back at her critics, saying she supports police, and adding that it's time for everyone to have some accountability.
“We’ve got to stop this. We are doing each other more harm than any police officer on this force. We’ve had over 75 shootings in the city over the past several weekends,” Bottoms said at a press conference after Secoriea Turner’s death. “You can’t blame that on APD.”
But these officers said the mayor's words have fallen on deaf ears.
“She is single-handedly responsible for how bad morale is,” one officer said.
The police union said they have raised $1,000 for Turner’s family so far and donations can be made to www.firstresponderssupportfund.com.
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