FOREST PARK — A standing-room-only crowd of local and county dignitaries, law enforcement officers and political activists turned out for the formal swearing-in of Forest Park Police Chief Nathaniel Clark at the Leonard Hartsfield Community Center May 28.
Clark is the city’s first permanent African-American police chief. Capt. Jason Armstrong, who was appointed interim chief after the City Council fired longtime Chief Dwayne Hobbs last October, was the first African-American to head the Police Department. The council later replaced Armstrong with Maj. Jamie Reynolds as interim chief until it decided on Clark for the permanent position.
Clark had been sworn in officially on May 15 by Mayor Angelyne Butler during the Citizens Police Academy graduation so that he could conduct his duties.
“From Day One, he was already ahead of the game,“ said City Manager Angela Redding. “He is a breath of fresh air, with a lot of ideas, and we’re just extremely glad to have Chief Clark.“
Following the official administration of his oath, Clark pledged to the officers present “to do all within my power to see that you are properly equipped, trained and supervised,“ adding, “You are the best the city has to offer“ and, “You will not go unrecognized.“
In return, Clark said he expected “integrity, courage, commitment, respect and professionalism, not only for your department but for yourself and for the citizens of Forest Park, regardless of race, sex, gender, religion or national origin.“
“I commit to you to empower you to develop your fullest potential,“ Clark added, “and I expect you to focus on the mission. The citizens of this city deserve no less, and I will expect no less.“
To the citizens of Forest Park, Clark said, “I pledge to hold myself to the highest ethical standards.“
Likening police goodwill to “daily deposits in a bank,“ Clark added, “I ask you, when we come back, to withhold judgment until all the facts are out.“
Sounding more like a preacher than a police chief at times, Clark also had a message for lawbreakers.
“Criminal activities cannot and will not be tolerated in this city under any circumstances. As my mother says, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. We will apprehend and incarcerate you. You have been put on official notice that victimizing families and communities is not a constitutional right in the city of Forest Park.“
His comments were met with enthusiastic applause.
In closing, Clark warned of “some setbacks, some setups and some traps along the way“ and thanked his wife, LaNicia, for having his back.
Among those present were Butler, City Manager Angela Redding; Councilmembers Kimberly James (Ward 1), Sandra Bagley (Ward 3), Latresa Akins-Wells (Ward 4) and Allan Mears (Ward 5); Municipal Court Judge Ronald Freeman, Public Works Director Jeff Eady, Finance Director Ken Thompson, Support Services Director Christine Terrell, Fire Chief Eddie Buckholts, Recreation and Leisure Services Director Elaine Corley, IT Director Darren Duke, Interim Police Chief Jamie Reynolds, former Interim Police Chief Capt. Jason Armstrong, Maj. Chris Matson, Col. Tommy Orr, and numerous detectives and officers from the department.
Also present were Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chair Jeffrey Turner and his wife, Commissioner Sonna Singleton Gregory, Chief Assistant Solicitor Charles A. Brooks and Chief Investigator Milton Cox, as well as Jonesboro City Manager Ricky L. Clark Jr., Jonesboro Police Chief Clifford Kelker and Lake City Police Chief Anthony Whitmire.
Sgt. Kelli Flanigan led the Pledge of Allegiance and Senior Chaplain Dr. Leon Beeler offered the opening and closing prayers.
Dr. Lawanda Folami was among the politicos present. Relatives of Akins-Wells were there in force, sporting campaign T-shirts, as did the mother of rival Ward 4 candidate Yasmin Julio.
Clark’s last post was in Fort Smith, Ark. His extended family from Fayetteville took up two rows. “We’re happy to have him back home,“ said Clark’s brother-in-law, Jameel Hanif.
The event ended with refreshments and many cellphone “selfies“ with the new chief.