A recent rash of shootings in Forest Park, particularly among young people, has city leaders vowing to crack down on crime.
“You might get some complaints,” Police Chief Nathan Clark warned the council. “But you have elected for me to serve in this position, and as your police chief, we’re going to do things a little bit differently.”
Clark told the mayor and city council that he is putting extra police on the street and, in cooperation with the Clayton County Public Schools Police, going into local schools to speak with students about gun safety and violence, and holding similar workshops for adults.
“We are implementing what we call Operation Clean Sweep,” Clark said. “This will take place effective immediately. We are redeploying our resources to enhance our police presence, based on our crime trends data. We’re using overtime to maximize our visibility….We are reiterating to our staff, those that are working art-time jobs, anytime that there is a priority call, you are to leave that part-time call and go 10-8. That is our policy. On any priority calls, Forest Park is first.”
Clark also said he is setting up a new Special Response Team to respond to all Part One crimes, as well as “to augment field operations.”
“They’ll work four days a week, ten hours a day, five hours to augment day shift, five hours to augment evening shift,” Clark said.
Most calls happen between 9 p.m. and midnight or 1 a.m., he said: “So, instead of having nine officers on the street during our peak call for services, we’re going to have from 13 to 14 officers on the street.”
While he didn’t get into specifics about the incidents, which are under investigation, Clark did outline in general terms two of the recents shootings. He said he had met with “another agency in this region, and I can’t give this agency’s name at this particular time,” about patrol strategies and establishing a crime suppression task force.
In the Ash Street shooting on April 14, Clark said, two Black and two Hispanic males who knew each other were “in the house for hours, smoking marijuana, then they came out and left. During the course of them leaving, one of them picked up some belongings that belonged to another one, and I can’t go into a lot of specifics, but shortly thereafter, a fight ensued, some racial language ensued, and then we had gunfire.”
In the Rock Cut Road shooting, “we had several youth—young youth, between the ages of about 14 and 16—performing some illegal acts. Again, they knew each other. Without going into specifics on that incident, they attempted to take actions against one another. Gunfire ensued. Now on that particular case, we’ve already arrested one male, we’ve identified another one, and so we just have one at large and we’re waiting to go ahead and apprehend him.”
“We are going to use all of our available resources to ensure that we do everything humanly possible so that this city is a safe place to live and raise our loved ones,” Clark said.
“We refuse to allow anybody take control of our city,” Clark said.
Council exploring how to respond
Councilmembers said they wanted to do something to offer the city’s youth some guidance.
“I’m 100 percent confident at what your plan is,” said Ward 2 Councilman Dabouze Antoine, “It’s very effective. That’s why we elected you to come in this position. You’re one of the chiefs that I see that’s on top of the ball. You don’t wait until issues come, you already are prepared ahead of the time.”
Antoine linked the rash of youth crime to Georgia’s new “constitutional carry” law, which eliminates the state weapons license requirement for Georgians to open-carry weapons.
“This constitutional carry law, folks, like, it makes it hard on the police officers and the police department to even, even regulate such type of law,” Antoine said. “So you don’t need a permit to even carry a gun no more. So is violence gonna increase or decrease? The police department needs not only resources but it needs our help to be vigilant and educate our young people how to not use gunfire. Kind of like medicine. You know how you leave your medicine out and your kids could use it or not? It’s just the same thing as guns.”
Ward 3 Councilman Héctor Gutierrez, a combat veteran and teacher, said, “This is really just too close to home. As an educator, you know, Black and brown kids killing each other, that’s not good. I just want to challenge everyone here as citizens in our city, we have to step up. It takes a village to raise these children. Sometimes, children have children, you know? Young youth, just have a baby and then you’ve gotta roll with it…and it’s hard to be growing up in this generation. It’s not it used to be with us. Social media has made it where you’re connected to the world from these devices, but you’re really disconnected from the person next to you because you don’t know how to communicate. You don’t know how to effectively communicate. And I bet you most of these arguments happen because there’s not effective communication…and things escalate. When you don’t have nothing, respect and pride is all you have, so nobody’s gonna take that from you.”
Gutierrez called for more mentorship programs, but had a suggestion from the dais for faith-based groups.
“We need to just identify these individuals in our community, these youth that could use some help, hey, maybe somebody to talk to,” he said. “I know the religious groups are always doing amazing things, but some people, some students just get turned off by that if something is forced on them. So maybe changing your approach, having that prayer and that thought, but not maybe, I don’t know, funneling it in a different way where you can introduce that aspect after you do the initial mentorship?”
Ward 1 Councilwoman Kimberly James said, “The access to guns and the access to drugs is a big major thing. I’m really looking forward to, I know I’ve said it a couple of times in the past, drug task force. Because somebody’s supplying these kids with these things.”
And she noted the prevalance of marijuana on Forest Park’s streets.
“I mean, you smell it everywhere and we’ve just got to get a handle on it.”
James added, “We just have to make sure that those who have guns know how to keep these guns safely away from these kids.”
Ward 4 Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells, who lost a family member to gunfire in 2019, said, “Violence is gonna happen everywhere, things are gonna happen everywhere, that’s something we can’t control, but I will say that people—I’m sorry, Sergeant Lewis, but you made me think about this—but you have some officers and some people that actually get out here, and I’ve seen a video that went viral on you on Facebook, getting out of the car, dancing with the kids and stuff. Just little small stuff like that makes a big difference. We’re hearing that, and seeing what’s going on in the community that I grew up in, and the dangers, that so much has changed.”
She added, “Back then we used to have, they called it Brotherhood or something, the older guys would get a young group of men and talk to them…it was like a Big Brother thing, I guess, and talk to them. And you know, we need that back in the community, and not just with young boys, and not just with Black kids—with kids, period. We need that. And so, that’s something that I want to work on.”
Akins-Wells suggested getting together with FPPD and coming up with a program “that’s not costly to get these youth together in the community and make an impact, and not just talk about it but actually be about it.”
She said that when she pulled up to the scene of one shooting, “I thought it was a car accident. And the first thing that I actually did was call my son. And as parents, we shouldn’t have to worry about stuff like that.”
Mayor Angelyne Butler said, “I think that’s something I would like to join with you on also. But as part of the conversations with Senator [Jon] Ossoff today, the topic of the guns and mental health came up. And so there is some funding that the county is going to receive to help, and hopefully to funnel down to the cities where we could do like a joint initiative with the county in general, but to address the mental health aspect that goes into these situations. Because for someone to resort to violence versus a conversation to handle a dispute, there’s a disconnect somewhere. I mean, there’s no one magical answer. I think there’s a lot of mitigating circumstances that leads to instances, unfortunate instances like this, but it is going to take a collective effort to try and bring some resolve, and I think what you’re hearing today is that the council is committed to assisting you, Chief, in bringing some resolve to our community.”
Ward 5 Councilman Allan Mears said, “I think you’re headed in the right direction. But you’ve gotta remember: trouble is like a rolling stone. You’ve got to keep it moving. And I would be interested into knowing the people that caused most of the shootings, are they from Forest Park? Or are they transients? The problem seems to me to be that we have people on the west of us and people on the east of us use Forest Park in the middle, back and forth. They come here looking for guns, they go there looking for guns, and if you keep ’em moving, and don’t let ’em settle in.”
Mears asked whether the people committing gun crimes were from Forest Park or not. Clark said some were, and that FPPD could work on a database to store that “intel,” which would be used by the task force to concentrate efforts where they are most needed.