Decatur Police Department hosting invite-only focus group meeting

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 1, 2015
Decatur Police Officers compare notes in the parking lot of Decatur High. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Decatur Police Officers compare notes in the parking lot of Decatur High. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The Decatur Police Department is gathering public input via a focus group “to inform our strategic planning efforts as we plan for the future of the Police Department.”

The focus group will meet on June 10 at the city Recreation Center. A copy of the invitation was forwarded to Decaturish by reader Chris Billingsley who wanted to know if it would be a public meeting.

“The City of Decatur Police Department invites you to a special focus group session just for residents of the City of Decatur,” the invite from the city says. “Through your views and ideas, the Decatur Police Department hopes to better understand how to add even greater value to the City of Decatur community.”

We asked police Lt. Jennifer Ross if this focus group meeting would be open to the public.

“Just the invitees,” Ross said.

The invitation does not specify what the focus group will discuss.

Billingsley has been a vocal critic of how the city has handled a community discussion about alleged racial profiling by city police officers. During a May 4 City Commission meeting, Billingsley asked why meetings of a “Leadership Circle” made up of residents and employees have not been open to the public. The circle is s developing recommendations for the City Commission about how to move forward with a community-wide conversation about diversity. That includes a discussion about the racial profiling allegations.

He concedes that while he’s a critic of the premise of the Leadership Circle, he’s even more concerned about what he feels is a lack of public input in its decisions.

“I opposed the idea from the beginning and still do but always assumed the meetings would be open to anyone from the City of Decatur. I looked forward to attending but now I see that the decisions of the LC will be made in secret and fear that most or all of the recommendations will be approved by a majority of the board,” he told Decaturish. “In my opinion, the board is setting themselves up for another tree ordinance debacle.”

City Commissioners first started looking at the tree ordinance in October of 2013 and enacted a 90 day moratorium on tree removal. The moratorium ended Jan. 24, 2014 three days after city commissioners scrapped the first version of the ordinance after a public outcry. It ultimately passed in May of last year.

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  • Andrew

    Focus groups, by definition, are select and by invitation. So why insert the redundant “invite only” into the headline, if not to cast DPD in a suspicious light for doing exactly what they say they’re doing. Should officers be assigned special citizen tag-alongs to take notes every time they speak with one or more members of the community?

    The other day I saw an officer parked to deter speed in a school zone. I yelled out, “Good work, officer. Keep those kids safe!” Just thought I should let everyone know, just in case there are concerns that DPD is collecting resident feedback outside the full scrutiny of our most ardent watchdogs.

    • Added “meeting” to the headline to clarify, but I find it interesting that the department is holding invitation only focus groups to solicit input on police operations. Thought it was worth a mention.

  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks Dan. Glad to see that you are reporting on an invite only meeting at a public location on June 10. I will attend and suggest among other things that Decatur citizens show support for our police department in several ways. We can thank police officers for their service and tell them, “God bless you and keep you safe”. We can petition the commission for a “Support The City Of Decatur Police Rally” on the square. We can work with other communities to have a rally at the state capital and demand that our legislators stand with the police during this difficult time. And most important of all, we can pray that there are not more dead cops because of the anti-police hysteria promoted by certain politicians, professional activists and members of the media.
    One more thing, please do not forget that there is another group meeting in Decatur, at unknown locations and unannounced times, that has been given the power by our commissioners to make recommendations that could change Decatur as much as the Stragetic Plan has. We have much more to fear from the Leadership Circle than the one you reported on today.

    • Bill Jones

      I don’t know you, but I support your position 100%. The democratic process should not be subverted through secret meetings by unelected people whose positions are not supported by a majority of Decaturites.
      I support the Decatur police 100%. They should be denigrated to put our leaders on the defensive so that poor policies can be pushed by opportunists with agendas.

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