Reading with the Chief

The COPS Office is pleased to feature the January 2016 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest – the Brookhaven (Georgia) Police Department. Their winning photo features Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura reading to students at Woodward Elementary School.

The city of Brookhaven is the newest and largest city in DeKalb County, Georgia, with an area just greater than 12 square miles. North of Atlanta, Brookhaven was incorporated in July 2012 and has an estimated population of 55,000. In 2014, Brookhaven was considered the fastest growing ZIP code1 in the state of Georgia.

The Brookhaven Police Department took over police operations from the county in 2013 with Chief Gary Yandura leading the charge. Its mission is to enhance the quality of life for those within the community by providing professional, high quality, and effective police service in partnership with the community.2

To fulfill its mission, the department hired a diverse group of officers representing 26 different agencies in the state of Georgia. Those officers hired to start the operations brought at least five years of experience to the department each. With a strong foundation in staffing, the department, made up of approximately 69 sworn officers, has already made great strides in building trust with its residents.

Officer Carlos Nino, who has been with Brookhaven for two years and in law enforcement for six, works with the Community Outreach Group, a team of two officers led by a sergeant. “Closing the gap with the Hispanic community in the southern portion of our city is one of my main duties. We have a lot of Spanish-speaking residents that do not feel comfortable calling 911 because of the language barrier and the mistrust,” Officer Nino said.

To help establish and build relationships of trust, the Community Outreach Group, as part of the Support Services Division, spends a lot of time in the Spanish-speaking communities of Brookhaven. By frequently visiting area apartment complexes, meeting with apartment managers, participating in community meetings, and speaking to the residents in their own language, the officers have become well-known members of the communities they serve. They use social media to their advantage, having created a Facebook page completely in Spanish where they can participate in a dialogue with residents.

Another initiative spearheaded by the Community Outreach Group has been to visit area schools and spend time reading to students. In the featured photo, Chief Yandura is shown reading to a class at Woodward Elementary School. “Chief Yandura has been out to that school many times. Woodward Elementary is [at] double, if not triple, their capacity, and the majority of the students are Hispanic. It’s a great contrast and exciting thing that he does by going out and reading to the kids,” said Officer Nino. “We’ve seen a big change from the very beginning when we first showed up. The kids were a little intimidated, but now when they see us, they come and give us big hugs. The picture only shows a little of what we actually experience in the schools.”

Not only do the officers read to the students but they also educate them on the role of police in the community. “We give them homework and little tips, like what to do if you get lost. We ask them to memorize their parents’ names, phone numbers, and addresses, and when we return to the schools, they get so excited to share the answers with us. We talk to them about our uniforms and why we wear them. The kids seem to love our belts—they call them ‘Batman belts,’ Officer Nino laughed. “It helps them relate to us.”

The Community Outreach Group has been so successful in the schools and with the Hispanic community that 13 of the 16 youth in the Brookhaven Police Explorers program are Hispanic. “The Community Outreach Group came up with the idea, and we’ve all just ridden their coattails,” said Major Brandon Gurley, who commands the Support Services Division and has worked in law enforcement for almost 17 years. “I want to make sure we give credit where it is due.”

While the Brookhaven Police Department faces the same challenges as any startup organization, its efforts to build community trust are coming to fruition. Outreach efforts ranging from social media to visiting schools have helped to make this new city a safe place to live.

“This is the first time in my career that I get to do something outside of the patrol capacity,” Officer Nino shared. “These have been the best two years of my life in law enforcement because I get to deal with the positive side of the work.”

The COPS Office congratulates the Brookhaven Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2016 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.

Written with contributions from Major Brandon Gurley and Officer Carlos Nino of the Brookhaven Police Department. Photo courtesy of the Brookhaven Police Department.

Najla Haywood
Special Contributor
The COPS Office


1 “Brookhaven’s 30319: Atlanta’s Fastest Growing ZIP Code,” Brookhaven Post, last modified March 28, 2014,

2 “Brookhaven Police Department,” Brookhaven, GA, accessed January 6, 2016,

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