New Athens Police Chief Focuses on Community Engagement at AADM Town Hall

Since taking on his position as Chief of Police, Cleveland Lee Spruill Sr. has visited seven different barbershops, hairdressers and other area businesses and has found them to be some of the most important actions since he started.

As reported in The Red & Black, Spruill attended the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement’s  town hall on policing last Thursday. He emphasized his desire to listen and engage with community members, and visiting businesses with community leaders and customers is a way to build relationships.

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“By him being in the community and being active, that’s a plus to me because a lot of people sit behind a desk and don’t get up,” said Mykeisha Ross, Athens community member, in reference to Spruill’s actions so far.

Spruill, who replaced former Chief of Police Scott Freeman, described his vision for the ACCPD as a “modern, enlightened, 21st-century” department, which includes a diverse organization, a building of trust and highly trained officers.

Mokah-Jasmine Johnson, president of Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, said AADM and the police department must figure out how to work together since race relations and police brutality are major reasons why AADM exists.

“We have to figure out how to build a relationship with the police, even though there’s lack of trust,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she is concerned about transparency and accountability within ACCPD, especially after Freeman’s unexpected departure and incidents of police violence.

Growing up, Spruill said he experienced crime, violence, and fear of the police in New York and Virginia, which gave him many perspectives on law enforcement.

“When I come as a police chief, I’m coming also having known what it feels like to be a kid who

is afraid to go outside to play because there’s a gangbang on every corner and there’s drug dealers on every park,” Spruill said.

Those in attendance seemed to agree with Spruill on topics including how drug addicts or those dealing with mental health issues should receive help instead of being imprisoned.

Regarding ACCPD as an entity, Spruill said the department should find opportunities to avoid using force when it doesn’t jeopardize the safety of the officers.

“Just because you can use force doesn’t mean you should use force,” Spruill said.

In his new position, Spruill said he wants to help youth by implementing “youth programs,” discussing the value of education, mentoring and a sharing of ideas with young people in the community.

Beto Mendoza, coordinator of the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition, later led the conversation to immigration law and deportation, asking how AACPD would handle illegal immigrants in the community.

Spruill said that the ACCPD isn’t U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and it won’t be enforcing the 287(g) program of immigration authority, a partnership between ICE, state and local law enforcement that allows ICE to enforce federal immigration laws independently of local laws as part of its homeland security mission.

Erin Stacer, who works for AADM and local progressive group Athens for Everyone, was part of a group of people who demanded that Williams include diversity as a factor in his consideration of a new police chief.

“I am happy to see a black police chief. That’s great,” Stacer said. “I’m more concerned about him treating the larger population here in Athens.”

Stacer said she wants the new police chief’s vision to be in line with positive actions AADM has been working on, and she doesn’t want any wrongdoings from ACCPD.