FOREST PARK — Clayton County Police Chief Kevin Roberts told the Forest Park Ministers Association at its monthly breakfast June 12 that “an open hand“ is just as important in effective policing as “a sword.”

Before a group of pastors from across Clayton County, as well as Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, Forest Park Police Chief Nathaniel Clark, chaplains from various departments and community activists, Roberts described several initiatives that CCPD has undertaken.

After a sermon on Gethsemane as “a necessary place of separation“ for law enforcement, Rev. LaVoris Holloway of Grace Church International At Clayton introduced Roberts.

“All I wanted to be was a lil’ ol’ detective,” Roberts said. “Anyone who lives in Clayton County knows the politics are very active. A chief usually lasts about three and a half years, so I need to do at least six or seven .... but to the chaplain’s point, when something needs to be done and the Lord calls you to it, go with it.”

Roberts praised the working relationship between ministers, law enforcement and citizens, then explained what CCPD has done under his leadership:

Crime rate: Roberts said the overall crime rate is down 5 percent over last year. “How did we do it? Partnerships and collaborations,” adding that he and Hill “usually this time of the week are sitting there reviewing crime stats. We’re joined at the hip.”

Interagency partnerships: Roberts mentioned his recent trip to the Chicago Police Department, saying it was Hill’s idea. “The sheriff said, ‘You’ve gotta go to Chicago.’ I said, ‘Why? Chicago ain’t safe!’, drawing laughter. Roberts noted Chicago was doing “innovative“ things “but also basics we’d gotten away from.” He also said all chiefs and sheriffs in Clayton get together quarterly for a “parallel vision about reducing crime and exchanging ideas of that nature.”

Recruitment: “When I came to be chief, unfortunately we had about 38 vacancies,” Roberts said. “If you watch the news, our peers in the metropolitan area are making that competition very, very active and aggressive. But we brought that number down to about 32, so we’re trending in the right direction.”

Retention: “Many of our field officers, they take on a lot of extra liability because they’re constantly training new police officers,” Roberts said. “With that added liability, I felt that there should be some added pay.” The Board of Commissioners gave a 5 percent raise to 30 positions.

Faith-based partnerships: Roberts praised his chaplain corps’ work with religious leaders, as well as active-shooter and church safety workshops. “We want to keep our congregants safe and our faith-based leaders safe. ... Do they have a safety plan? Do they have a security team? Do they allow weapons in the church? Are there posted signs saying ‘don’t bring weapons in the church’? We don’t make any mandates. We just make recommendations.” Roberts reiterated his recent eye-opening experiences touring a mosque, Buddhist temple, synagogue, Catholic church and Hindu temple in the county.

Neighborhood Watch: Roberts said the county’s roughly 250 Neighborhood Watch groups are his “strongest line of communication with residents“ and that he hopes to add another 100 groups by next year.

Businesses: Roberts said the business summit for the southwestern part of Clayton County, held June 11 at Allan Vigil Ford, discussed crime trends related to businesses.

Homelessness: Noting that many families are living in extended stay hotels around the county due to evictions, Roberts said, “Now they’re being held hostage at certain extended stays.” He said he wants his officers to connect homeless people to resources.

One minister asked the chief to speak at his church because many African American congregants say they fear the police.

“So do I,” Roberts said. “When I’m not in uniform, to this day, if I’m not wearing my uniform, I still get nervous. So I totally understand. And I don’t even mind coming to a church, saying, ‘I’m a black man when I’m out of uniform.’ They don’t see me as a chief. And they won’t know I’m the chief unless I go, ‘Hey, I’m the chief of Clayton County.’ In some places, they don’t care.”

Activist Dr. Lawanda Folami, Clayton County Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin and Edie Yongue, longtime director of Keep Forest Park Beautiful, also were present. Mayor Angelyne Butler reportedly had a previous engagement.

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