Macon police begin mandatory training on racial profiling, professionalism

hgoodridge@macon.comApril 30, 2013 

  • If you go

    Future trainings are scheduled in the Coliseum’s Monument Room from 7-10 p.m. Thursday and in Exhibition Hall B from 1-5 p.m. Tuesday and 7-10 p.m. May 9.

The Macon Coliseum was probably the safest place in the city Tuesday.

About 94 officers spent most of the afternoon in one of the building’s conference rooms getting some mandatory training on “racial profiling and cultural professionalism.”

Tuesday’s training, facilitated by the U.S. Department of Justice, was the first of four sessions interim Chief Mike Carswell said every officer in the department will take.

The community is invited to attend the sessions. A handful of people came out Tuesday.

“It’s a fresh perspective,” Carswell said during a break in the session that lasted from 1- 5 p.m. He said he particularly liked the portion that explained officers need to be developing contacts and relationships with residents. If officers “don’t get up and move around and get information (when things are calm), it’s tough to get it when you need it. Some of this we already know, but it’s always good to be reminded,” he said.

Officer Clayton Sutton sat in the back row wearing a black polo shirt, khakis and his gun holstered around his waist. He declined to be interviewed.

The result of his action on Dec. 21, 2012, at the Pio Nono Avenue Kroger is the reason the training sessions are being held.

He shot and killed an unarmed Sammie “Junebug” Davis Jr., creating an outcry in the community angered by the shooting and what some residents say are years of unfair treatment by officers in some Macon communities.

“My agency was contacted by (retiring Macon police) Chief (Mike) Burns after the death of Sammie Davis Jr. That’s how we got here,” said the Justice Department’s Walter Atkinson, who facilitated the training.

After an investigation by the GBI, Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke ruled the shooting justified. An internal police shooting review board also cleared Sutton of any wrongdoing.

He’s been back to work since mid-March, but it was clear some officers haven’t seen him in a while. Many greeted him with a handshake during breaks in the four-hour training session.

“We all have biases and prejudices,” Atkinson said during the beginning of the session. “The issue is how we deal with them. That’s the issue.”

One officer wanted to know more about why the Justice Department is in Macon to train police. “Are y’all here because y’all felt we did not train our officers appropriately?” he asked.

Atkinson responded, “We don’t place blame on anyone. We do not investigate. The fact is the community and leaders in your department came to us.”

The branch of the Justice Department conducting the training is the Community Relations Service office. “We do not enforce,” Atkinson said. “We are the arm known as the peacemakers in the Department of Justice.”

“Biases and prejudices shape an individual’s perceptions and paradigms,” Atkinson said. “Paradigm is how you see or perceive situations through the lenses of your own eyes based on your life’s experiences.”

Atkinson said the perceptions go both ways. While residents have their perceptions about police, officers also have perceptions about residents.

“How do you attempt to get everyone to see the same thing?” he asked. The first step is effective communication, he said.

Future training sessions are scheduled in the Coliseum’s Monument Room from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday and in Exhibition Hall B from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and 7 to 10 p.m. May 9.

To contact writer Harold Goodridge, call 744-4382.

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