Riverdale's new police chief
Focusing on respect, professionalism

By Daniel Silliman


Don't think about John Wayne.

The newly appointed Riverdale Police chief speaks authoritatively, with a bold and booming voice. He shakes hands that way, too, with his short, strong fingers and big, broad palm.

Samuel F. Patterson, a 59-year-old who flew helicopters in Vietnam and worked with the Atlanta Police Department for 18 years, comes off as big, strong, and manly. But in his first week as police chief, Patterson is promising to continue the department's direction toward friendly, courteous and professional policing, distancing his 43 officers from the image of over-aggressive men with billy clubs and badges.

"Obviously, we want to be disciplined, and obviously, we want to enforce the law, but there's a way to do that without being John Wayne," Patterson said, speaking of the late actor who is an icon of rugged individualism.

"We want to enforce the law with a certain level of professionalism," he said, "a certain amount of respect, even for the worst of criminals. I tell my officers, treat that citizen -- and in some cases it may be a criminal -- as you would want another officer to treat your mother. Do that and you can't go wrong."

Patterson, who has been with the department for two and a half years, took the top spot on Tuesday, after City Manager Iris Jesse selected him to replace Chief Thetus A. Knox.

Knox retired from the Atlanta Police Department, where she was a deputy chief, in 2004, to take over the Riverdale department. She brought Patterson with her, having worked closely with him for 11 years in Atlanta, and put him in charge of operations and the day-to-day activities of the department.

Patterson, sitting in his office on Thursday, said Knox was a visionary, the idea person in the relationship, and he was the one who put her plans into place. Knox moved the Riverdale police toward community-oriented policing, putting progressive policies in place and establishing a number of strong, anti-gang programs after the city was rocked by the deaths of two children in gang-related violence.

During her tenure, she oversaw:

· The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive's Gang Resistance Education And Training program coming into the city's schools.

· The creation of the City Of Riverdale Youth program, for kids aged 13 to 16 during the summer

· The establishment of a citizens advisory council which meets quarterly

· The creation of a citizens police academy

· A program of outreach to Hispanic and Asian business owners, who were beleaguered by robberies

· The state accreditation of the police department

Shortly after completing the accreditation project, Knox decided to retire for a second time. She left the Riverdale department on Monay.

"She felt she had accomplished the things she wanted to accomplish and she felt this would be a good time to enjoy her retirement," Jesse said.

Patterson promises to continue the former chief's programs, and expand the policy of progressive, professional and community-oriented policing.

He said he will: start a cadet program for the city's high school students; hire more highly educated officers; start a "Quality of Life Unit," to focus on complaints about littering, loitering and loud music; promote outreach to business owners and residents; and pursue national accreditation.

Knox, an African-American female, who was sworn in as an officer in 1973, worked to bring about a change in the culture of law enforcement, and had success in Riverdale. She "pretty much changed the culture of the department," Jesse said.

Though Patterson could easily fit the image of the "John Wayne Police Officer," he said he will follow Knox's legacy and promote a friendly and professional police force, continuing a "broad-reaching program to change the department, and also the city government and our community."

"The police officer of the 21st century is going to be different from the police officer of the 20th century," he said. "Because of transitions, demographically and otherwise, that the city has gone through, there are some things that have needed to change for us to represent the citizens of Riverdale."

Jesse said she's confident the 59-year-old will move the city in the right direction.

Patterson, who has been married for 30 years and is the father of three and grandfather of two, said he's ready for the move. He applied for the top spot at the Clayton County Police Department last year. He's glad, though, to be staying in Riverdale.