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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Decatur (AL) Police Department as the August 2018 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo features Sergeant Heather Atchley with a high school student during Teen Driver Safety Week, drawing driver safety reminders in a local high school parking lot.
The City of Decatur, Alabama, known as “The River City” sits on the Tennessee River just 25 miles from Huntsville. Described as a blue-collar community, minorities make up over 20 percent of its population of approximately 55,000 people. The Decatur Police Department (DPD) is comprised of 150 officers and 50 civilian staff members.
“Our biggest public safety challenge would be maintaining a good working relationship with the community in light of all of the issues going around the nation between law enforcement and communities,” said Chief Nate Allen, who has served in his role for two years. Prior to being chief in Decatur, Allen served in the Knoxville (TN) Police Department for thirty years.
Chief Allen believes that transparency is the best way to overcome this challenge. “When something bad does occur, we address it head on with open dialogue,” he shared. In his two years as chief, he has participated in numerous community meetings and neighborhood watch meetings. He hosts breakfasts with the chief and command staff, and has an open door policy for community members. At any time, community members are welcome to chat with him.
He says the department relies on social media to help with transparency and to share positive things happening in the community. Through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, the department engages with its followers on a number of topics, including upcoming events, safety tips and recommendations, searches for wanted subjects, and recruitment opportunities. In fact, the DPD has a website dedicated to its recruiting efforts.
“I think the police department should reflect its community with its hiring,” Chief Allen said. “We have a pretty diverse police department that reflects the community. Recruiting is difficult, but we try to let our officers recruit for our police department. If others see our officers doing well, they will want to join us.”
Just as challenging as recruitment can be, keeping officers motivated also requires effort. “I believe the officers want three things,” Chief Allen stated. “They want to feel supported by the administration, have the tools they need to do their jobs, and they want to be trained in the latest techniques when it comes to policing. We do all of those things and that’s what helps to keep them motivated.”
What also keeps officers motivated is the flexibility to be creative on the job. Sgt. Heather Atchley, pictured in the winning photo, developed a presentation for local students during Teen Driver Safety Week as part of the DPD’s Safety Education Unit. The presentation focused on general safety rules for the road, including Alabama’s Move Over Law.
During Teen Driver Safety Week, Sgt. Atchley participated in a number of activities with students, including driving golf carts with photo vision drunk goggles. “They knocked over a lot of cones and were like, ‘Oh my gosh! We had no idea it would be like this!’ Hopefully we deterred them from drinking and driving in the future.”
The students also used sidewalk chalk to draw safety education phrases on student parking spaces at the school. “We did sidewalk chalk, so as they [students] pulled in their parking spaces, they would see ‘No texting while driving,’ ‘Move over,’ and other safety phrases that we learned,” Sgt. Atchley shared. “This was the first time we had done this. The Safety Education Unit started last year and I was the only officer – so this is something that I brought. It’s something that we’ll continue in the future.”
The COPS Office congratulates the Decatur Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2018 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.
Written with contributions from Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen and Sergeant Heather Atchley. Photo courtesy of Decatur Police Department Crime Scene Investigator Jonathan Lowery.
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