Diversity at the Cobb County Police Department has improved dramatically in the 25 years since Deputy Chief Scott Hamilton joined, he said at a forum Saturday. But the numbers remain disappointing, he said.
Only 16% of the department’s 600-some officers are minorities, Hamilton said. More than 80% are white men. The department is “nowhere close to where we need to be.”
“I’m making a plea now to the African-American community,” he continued. “Hey guys and young ladies, come join the force. We need more minorities, but you got to sign up.”
The forum, part of a weekly series the Cobb NAACP launched in observance of Black History Month, featured Black leaders in three of the county’s law enforcement organizations: Rhonda Anderson, chief deputy at the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office; District Attorney Flynn Broady; and Hamilton.
The trio spoke about the relationship between minority and law enforcement communities, officer-involved shootings and the precautions their organizations were taking to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“From the county manager’s office all the way down, everyone understands and recognizes that that is an issue,” Hamilton said, referring to diversity at the police department. “But I will tell you this too: I have had countless conversations with our recruiting department — a lot of the time, our African American males and females don’t want to be the police. They just don’t. And I am sure they’ve got their reasons, but the minority community are not standing in line to become cops.”
Social tension in the wake of George Floyd’s death last spring put Hamilton in an uncomfortable position, he said Saturday.
“Being a Black man and an African American leader within the police department, I was getting it from both angles,” he said as Broady nodded. “At first it was kind of a burden.”
But it became, in his words, a “blessing.”
“I’m actually able to be in both rooms, so I can go and tell the community ... we didn’t write the laws, but we have to enforce them, and if you don’t like the laws, hey, how about you go down and start voting and try to get some of these laws changed,” he said. “But on the flip side, I can also go to my law enforcement family and say, hey, you got to understand why Black folks are p--- — off.”
Last summer, a Cobb police officer shot and killed Fulton County teenager Vincent Truitt while he was fleeing arrest.
Broady, who had campaigned as a progressive prosecutor, inherited the case after he unseated former DA Joyette Holmes in the November election. The family demanded that he charge the officer with murder and make public a video of Truitt’s death captured by the officer’s body camera.
Broady resisted both demands, saying he would follow Cobb precedent and have a grand jury decide the officer’s fate, at which point he would release the video. Feb. 18, the grand jury cleared the officer and Broady held a news conference at which he shared the video and said the case was closed, infuriating the family.
He cast his decision Saturday as a case of doing the right thing versus the popular thing.
“If we’re not doing the right thing, we’re not going to be able to maintain leadership positions or the trust of the community,” he said. Sending the case to a grand jury was a way of preventing his own bias from affecting the outcome.
“Lots of times in these shootings, especially when it’s different races shooting one another or killing one another, it can get emotional,” he said.
Cobb NAACP President Jeriene Bonner-Grimes moderated part of the event and asked how grand juries are selected.
Broady said members of a grand jury are randomly selected from the county’s voter rolls by a computer.
The grand jury that cleared the officer who shot Truitt was “almost 50% minority,” Broady said, “so it had good representation for the community to hear this case and make the decision that they made.”
The forum’s participants also discussed steps they had taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Anderson said Cobb police officers “are not bringing in a lot of misdemeanor offenses, they are writing those people tickets to keep the COVID out of the jail.”
She said arrestees have their temperatures taken and are given a questionnaire that helps determine whether they are likely to have COVID-19. If they say yes to any questions, “we don’t really turn them away, but we’re working closely with ... local municipalities to curb that. But if someone has violent offenses, of course we’re going to have to take them in our jail, but they are being contained in areas in the detention facility.”
Broady said his office was “being very liberal” when it comes to setting bond, offering nonviolent offenders a “lower amount of bond or (unsecured judicial relief) bond ... which means you don’t pay any money to be bonded out.”