Coming together - Cobb Police Chief, Public Safety Director, meet with black leaders over Ferguson
by Hilary Butschek
August 26, 2014 04:00 AM | 5409 views | 25 25 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Deane Bonner, second from left, Cobb County’s NAACP chapter president, emphasizes a point during a discussion with public officials and members of the community during a meeting requested by Sam Heaton, third from left, Cobb County public safety director, on possible solutions to prevent what occurred recently in Ferguson, Mo. At left is Arthur Vaughn, president of the Cobb County National PanHellenic Council, and Cobb Police Chief John Houser. Staff/Jeff Stanton
Deane Bonner, second from left, Cobb County’s NAACP chapter president, emphasizes a point during a discussion with public officials and members of the community during a meeting requested by Sam Heaton, third from left, Cobb County public safety director, on possible solutions to prevent what occurred recently in Ferguson, Mo. At left is Arthur Vaughn, president of the Cobb County National PanHellenic Council, and Cobb Police Chief John Houser. Staff/Jeff Stanton
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Cobb Police Chief John Houser, right, discusses department hiring policy as Ben Williams, left, president of the Cobb chapter of the Southern Leadership Conference and Arthur Vaughn, president of the Cobb National PanHellenic Council, listens closely during the Monday meeting.
Cobb Police Chief John Houser, right, discusses department hiring policy as Ben Williams, left, president of the Cobb chapter of the Southern Leadership Conference and Arthur Vaughn, president of the Cobb National PanHellenic Council, listens closely during the Monday meeting.
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MARIETTA — Leaders of the local NAACP and the county’s public safety department agree that Cobb is not immune to the sort of conflict happening in Ferguson, Mo.

That’s why Sam Heaton, the county’s public safety director, said he called a meeting with prominent members of the black community Monday.

“Unfortunately, I think it could happen here, and I think it could happen anywhere in America,” Heaton said.

Heaton said he is aware of the tension felt by blacks, who make up 27 percent of the county’s population, according to the 2011 census.

“I want everyone to know I was not asked to do this. This is something I wanted to do,” Heaton said to about 20 black leaders in Cobb who attended the meeting held at the local NAACP branch on Roswell Street in Marietta.

The meeting took place the same day Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was buried in Ferguson, 15 days after he was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer, setting off riots that pitted citizens against police in the town.

Deane Bonner, president of the Cobb NAACP, said she has a good relationship with local police, but it doesn’t mean she thinks police have a good relationship with all black residents.

“We’re sitting on a hot bed of what could happen here in Cobb County,” Bonner said.

County Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents south Cobb, attended the meeting. Cupid said she fears for her children because of the reputation of black men in Cobb.

“I do recognize that there is a continuing latent pressure among our community,” Cupid said. “Being a wife and a mother of black males, there is a challenging perspective when it comes to black males and public safety.”

Cobb Police Chief John Houser said he is attempting to create a better relationship between minorities and police by asking police to participate in events such as the “Safety Blitz,” which is a cookout held twice a year in a Cobb neighborhood that allows police to interact with residents in a friendly way.

Houser said building relationships with residents is the only way to break down the barriers between police and minorities.

“I can tell you, in my early years, we never did things like that — going out into the community and talking to people,” Houser said.

Bonner said starting a conversation in the community helps, but she strongly believes the police force isn’t fair to blacks because there isn’t enough minority representation on the force.

“The cops are white,” Bonner said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re sending cops into our neighborhoods. They need to look like us.”

Houser said the police force, made up of 702 people, is 80 percent white, compared to the county’s population, which is 65 percent white, according to the 2011 census.

Houser said the Cobb Police Department can’t offer what others do, such as a take-home car and higher pay.

“We’ve tried to recruit a diverse police force … but we compete with all the other cities and counties for the best candidates,” Houser said. “I’ll admit, we’ve got to do a better job of recruiting.”

Heaton agreed with Houser, saying another reason Cobb’s law enforcement isn’t more diverse is Cobb has a reputation for not promoting minority employees at the same rate as other counties.

“Trying to get African-American firefighters in here from Atlanta is almost impossible, and they say it’s because of our reputation that we don’t promote,” Heaton said.

Houser said the department may be more competitive if the Cobb Board of Commissioners passes the county’s fiscal 2015 budget tonight, a budget that includes $12 million to purchase new cars to expand a take-home car program and $3.1 million in pay incentives, such as a program to pay officers with advanced degrees higher salaries.

Community divided?

Arshod Varner, who mentors teens with the company Training Champions, based in Cobb, said the community is divided because police and residents won’t get along in Cobb until they can understand each other.

“The kids are afraid of the cops, and the cops are afraid of the kids because neither of them know each other,” Varner said. “It’s the ignorance and the fear of not knowing. It’s not a black thing or a white thing.”

Local pastor Benjamin Lockhart Jr., of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Marietta, claims the divide between black residents and the police exists because officers don’t treat blacks the same as whites in social settings while they’re on duty.

“I’ve met too many police officers that have got an attitude. They don’t want to talk to you,” Lockhart said. “Ain’t going to take but a minute to be kind. Then, I cannot be afraid of them.”

Bonner agreed with Lockhart, saying police often avoid eye contact with black people but start conversations with white people. Bonner said if cops were friendly toward children it would solve the communication problem because the community would learn from a young age that police are there to help.

“Let those kids see a friendly cop down there, and this cop is going to look like my dad,” Bonner said.

Houser said police don’t treat black people differently from other residents.

“I can’t say that any one race is stopped (by police) more than any other,” Houser said. “We are not going to profile anyone. Blacks are stopped, and so are whites and Hispanics and so on. They’re certainly not stopped for that reason.”

Houser said the department doesn’t keep a record of how often one race is stopped by police compared to another.

The police chief said he would work with the black community to meet in the future to hear their concerns. He also asked the group of concerned community members to have confidence in his department.

“When you have over 600 plus officers, you’re going to make a mistake, and if we make a mistake, we’re not going to hide from it. We’re going to face it upfront,” Houser said. “I’ve even arrested our own before.”

Comments
(25)
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Racist Racist Racist
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August 30, 2014
The cops need to look like us? Really? Are they calling for segregation again? Well segregate. Take all of your unemployed oh pity me tax base, take away the money from all of the other groups and run your own little county with your own little police. This is the United States, we come together to fix things. It seems the black community, since they identify everything to do with them by color wants to segregate. This is the most racist self defeating article I have read in a while. In no way does this help black people. It is more race baiting and white appeasement to this they fear will destroy their community with violence induced by stupidity. You call for a level playing field but whine and cry when you don't get your way. This is ridiculous and blatantly racist. Whites are the only race that tolerate open blatant racism towards them in comedy routines and everyday rights. If a white group had a group such as the NAACP it would be deemed racist as it promotes one group over another. This is 2014, put your black crutches down and stop crying oh pity me and join society and stop taking handouts from those you advocate separation from with your black patents, black awards, black this and black that. NO other group is as racist in todays society. You can't talk out of the side of your mouth and think people do not see your racist agendas for what they are. Wow...the verification code I have to type is succession...which is what you folks advocate!
sirwinston
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September 02, 2014
Police officers are sworn in to protect and to serve the community; no matter the makeup of this community. If a fire break out will a certain race of people be call to put it out; I doubt that. We say things without thinking and we also do things without thinking too. I am not pleased with division at all; it send a negative message; we are all human beings; we show up different because that is the make up of this world. No matter of what profession we may be in; we are still human being of the human race. What we need to be thinking and praying about is, a force beyond us comes into earth and want to do things to us; do you think they will single out a particular race to hurt, kill or destroy; no, they see us all as one person and that is a human being to us; but enemy to them. As I read the above paragraph, it just gives me more reasons to hate division among our human race; what does it do and what will it accomplish? Society as it is are into thinking as they please; what I am an advocate of is...if you hungry, I will feed you; hurt, I will get you help; and so on. It does you or me no good being a racist, color don't matter because we all wear it; we all are compounded with negative toward one and other that we all feel that we as a race are better than one and other...truth be told we are not. I grew up treating everyone equal, race played no part because it merely separated us all as human beings. We all must get beyond separation because nearly every race of people are dating, marrying and even partnering for whatever reason they feel necessary; no matter what you and I may think or feel. I do not think anyone is using "black crutches", same anyone can say to those who are using white crutches in the same manner crying of pity me as well. Just about in every case we know us someone or somebody will try to make things seem one sided instead of two sided...the end results will be the same. really, no one get anywhere with anything when they are caught being blatant racist toward any race of people. Because of that we will often call people out of their given names; it comes back to haunt us in so many ways and if we are serious and honesty in trying to erase all of this racist and racism toward one and other; we better try harder; the last will be first, the first will be last, we who suffer because of society mistakes will in time make society suffer because of what they did not do. None of us even you or them would not want to see anything like Ferguson, MO. to take place here; why would anyone want that. I would like to see people live decent among one and other. That is what God vision has been.
Samuel Adams
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August 28, 2014
Ms. Bonner, I have respect for you and have always believed you are active for the overall betterment of the whole community, fostering race communication and relations in a very classy way. That said, what would you do if Louis Farahkan and his hit squad, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others hit our streets the way they just did in Missouri? Would you stand with them and pander to their national standing, or would you stand with our own community leaders who you mix and mingle with on a day to day basis? If you have not contemplated this before, it's maybe time. Also, remember when the mosque burned and the black Muslim leader came down from NYC to race and religion bait, accusing the Marietta community of a hate crime? Where did you stand that day, ma'am??? It's good that you met with Chief Houser et al, but I would be interested to know which side of the line Marietta's black leadership would be standing at, should the vultures descend. Choosing your community, to stand toe to toe with our white leadership as one to lead, defend our community from divisiveness and lies, would be a new paradigm, wouldn't it? Perhaps we can work towards that goal.
generic321
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August 27, 2014
This is a good thing, if I thought the meeting was in fact actually for the purpose described. But I don’t. It is just another political move on many levels. Bonner doesn’t think police have a good relationship with all black residents. Well, that is true. We also don’t have good relationships with Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians, etc. But the reason for it is not always the police’s fault. A lot of has to do with how that person was brought up, what they were exposed to, what was taught to them, their friends, family, where they live…the list goes on. We should be meeting with everyone that actually cares to change their communities via some sort of town hall type meetings on a monthly basis, not because of the media blowing a shooting out of proportion and people acting like idiots in the street.

Cupid’s comment about being a wife and mother of black males and how there is some perceptions of black males and public safety is uncalled for. Out of all the commissioners, I respected you the most. The more people talk about racism or what have you, the more others talk about and then the cycle never ends. If it exists in our county (and it has), it will be found out and kicked to the curb (and it has.)

Bonner, we can’t hire people that do not apply. Maybe you should use some of your NAACP money and recruit qualified minorities for us. The communities are not “our neighborhoods” in the sense that you actually live in one and that they belong only to black people. They belong to the people that live in them whatever nationality/color/race that may be.

And yes, most of the “cops are white.” But again, Cobb is hiring only people that are qualified that actually apply. These officers need not to “look like us,” they only need to show respect and handle their job professionally. Again, you can help with recruiting anytime you would like.

Heaton, just shut it. We aren’t trying to recruit a diverse police force. We are just trying to recruit, anyone. We are so behind right now it’s not even funny. Cobb only has the reputation because some people did not like that they didn’t get promoted. Oh well. There are tons of other people that didn’t get promoted either.

I don’t know Varner, but it looks like they are the only with any common sense here. Not sure I agree with the word “afraid” but I think that is probably close.

Lockhart, if you are actually a man of God, why judge all police officers the way you do? Your claim that police officers, not just white officers, treat black people different than white while on duty. I beg to differ. Using your same idea, I suppose all pastors at Pleasant Grove Baptist don’t treat Christians and non-Christians the same. I sure hope not, but I wouldn’t put it past me.

Officers have “attitude” from time to time. This comes from a few different things. First, a lot of us get stressed out after going to call after call after call with our adrenaline spike and dropping. There rarely is down time to recover and our department does not provide us with any training to help combat this. (they do provide an EAP program but it up to you to reach out and those people are often stigmatized because they are now considered weak. Second, officers are taught that they are the alpha dog from day one. This is consistent in probably every police academy. This allows us to conduct investigations in a timely manner and not lose control of crime scenes. Next, police in Cobb don’t have time to stop and be kind to everyone we meet. It is not because we don’t want to, it is because we don’t have to man power to go out and shake everyone’s hand and ask them about their day. Last, there are always bad apples that maybe have a bad attitude all the time, but please don’t generalize everyone.

Bonner, please just shut your mouth about police not making eye contact and not making conversations with black people. People would have a better interaction with police if the social situations I mentioned above are geared toward that. Often they are not and are taught from a young age to not like police. You know like when you tell your kid that “if you don’t be good, the police officer right there will take you away.”

Houser, thank you for telling them police don’t treat black people differently from other residents.
T Lee
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August 27, 2014
RE: “Unfortunately, I think it could happen here, and I think it could happen anywhere in America,” Heaton said.

What an absolute assine statement! One that could only come from a lizard like political hack.

Sounds like Heaton is telling us that Cobb police are mindless bullies prone to gun down unarmed men when they get scared.

Or, is he telling us that Cobb police are prone to circle the wagon to protect their own by becoming totally non-responsive to the community/media immediately after a Cobb cop guns down an unarmed man(gotts to be a black man)...thereby pissing off a large segment of the community?

Or, is Heaton telling us that because we have black people in Cobb, and because a large part of the black community is likely to engage in wide scale looting and shooting as a part of the process of grieving the death of a black man who is shot and killed (by a white but not a black person), we are likely to see a "Ferguson" here in Cobb?

Timus
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August 26, 2014
This is a no brainer. Even if Ferguson had never occurred it's good for everyone in the community to have an open dialog.
Honest Abe
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August 27, 2014
It is dejavu all over again....I have been hearing that same old line that it is good that an open dialog is started between the races since the 1960's.
Watcher...
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August 26, 2014
Heston and Houser are trolling for SPLOST votes.

How about some planning and execution to stop the Heroine problem in Cobb County?

What are the racial demographics of the occupants of Sheriff Warren's Jail?
anonymous
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August 26, 2014
Indeed, trolling for SPLOST votes!

Watcher...
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August 26, 2014
I apologize, I misspelled Heaton.

On another topic, who authorized Chief Houser to wear four stars on his uniform.

Does his experience or position correlate that that of a four star U.S. Military Flag Officer?
MarionMoffitt
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August 26, 2014
Hiring more policemen of color, community policing and diversity training perhaps could help. What happened in Ferguson could certainly happen in Cobb County; specifically Marietta.
Journalism 101 Again
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August 26, 2014
The 2013 US Census numbers and info for Cobb have also been released, so no need to refer to 2011. However, the percentage of blacks in Cobb County has remained the same - 26.7 percent, or 27 percent.

I'm done for the day - sorry.
Journalism 101
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August 26, 2014
You spell out states now - ie: "Ferguson, Missouri." The rule changed earlier this year.
kkmarietta
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August 26, 2014
Interesting that our county residents are more than Black or White, but others were not included in the meeting. According to the US Census database 13% are Hispanic and 4% Asian. Why meet only with Black leaders? How many Hispanics or Asians are on our police force? Members of these communities also feel that they are unfairly targeted by police. We are a multiracial society and need to move beyond the Black/White dichotomy.

Neighbors -- Please refrain from troll comments about how all Hispanics are undocumented. A comment that is simplistic and untrue. It also doesn't matter; everyone should be treated justly, especially by the people whose job it is to protect all members of the community.
PeeWeesBrother
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August 26, 2014
From article: “The cops are white,” Bonner said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re sending cops into our neighborhoods. They need to look like us.”

I totally agree. Only black cops dealing with black criminals. Only white cops deal with white criminals. I am okay with that.

Also, as a member of the white majority population in Cobb I want the County Manager to look like the majority white population too. The County Manager is long overdue for a change.
AFoleyFan
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August 26, 2014
I didn't see any mention of the percentage of blacks in the Cobb Detention center. If blacks make up only 27% of Cobb's population that 27% should be about the same for the black inmate population in the detention center...Right?
anonymous
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August 26, 2014
This is just so weird. I had to think a bit to figure out just what Chief Heaton & Chief Houser were up to. I did figure it out, though.

What Heaton & Houser are doing here is using Ferguson as an excuse to "reach out" to the black community.

Their purpose: garner good will in the black community now, with the hope that they can parlay it into support from the black community for:

1) the SPLOST that is coming up that includes goodies for law enforcement, and

2) community support for MORE cops on the street.

The reason: Heaton & Houser need those black votes for the SPLOST to help get their taxpayer funded goodies. And, also to press the Cobb BOC for more cops on the ground to build their empire ( and add county employees ready to get out -with the chamber of commerce - to vote for whatever the BOC puts on the table for taxpayers to pay for).

Watch out, Cobb Countians, your government servants are working hard to get even further into your pockets...all in the name of "safety". Their priority is YOU paying for them.

Pathetic. Appalling.

Watcher...
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August 26, 2014
Anonymous is correct!

Growth of Bureaucracies is nothing more than LEGALIZED vote buying.
Just Wait
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August 26, 2014
Black kids hate the police because their parents taught them to be. More black police officers will not lessen the number of blacks arrested, which is the goal of these groups. They are right that Cobb Police has an attitude problem. And it's not just blacks that are the victims of this.
factchkr
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August 26, 2014
The Police don't care if you are Black or green. You treat them as you want to be treated and the rest takes care of itself. Just the idea that you need an organization like the NAACP to further relations just continues to point out differences. This will always be an issue until White people and Black people refer to one another as people and not by their race.
Acworth babe
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August 28, 2014
The Kennesaw cops are the worst. The speed trap in front of KMHS is a prime example. The cop who stopped me, granted I was speeding a bit (after going through the KMHS zone, you see a 45mph sign and then within yards you get a drop down to, well, he said 35 but I never saw it)....but, with children in my vehicle there was NO NEED for his nasty and completely scary attitude as I was cooperating and have always been on the side of the police. Mayor Matthews, if your goal is to keep people from going to Kennesaw businesses, your cops are helping because I won't even drive through there any more, let alone frequent any of the dying businesses along your strip of HWY 41. The hill heading down 41 near McCollum field is also a speed trap, beware. They get you for going 4 miles over on the downhill....
sirwinston
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September 02, 2014
Just Wait, don't say that. You can be positive in your thinking. You must have a problem with someone in the city.
D.G. in Clarkdale
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August 26, 2014
What a crock..... whiners, complainers and perpetually playing the victim. Geez...
FROM TEXAS
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August 26, 2014
You can meet all you want too, but if something happens here the National Black Klan from NYC and Chicago will decide on Marietta just like Ferguson and burn and lute everything. You can now just right that zip code off no one will invest in that area; rule of law means nothing that group of the population they hard working black’s community was hi-jacked by racist. The lead racist being Eric Holder and the so-called president has set race relations back 50 years!! This is why we don’t watch NBC as well.
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