DUNWOODY, Ga. — About 100 people gathered on Brook Run’s Great Lawn Oct. 2 to participate in a discussion with Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan regarding use of force, de-escalation and training. 

Forum on Dunwoody Police procedures

Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan discusses use of force and training at a forum held at Brook Run’s Great Lawn Oct. 2 with Mayor Lynn Deutsch, right.

The meeting was the first public forum held since early March, when events were cancelled because of concerns about large gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grogan said he was a bit disappointed with the turnout, but he understands that people are still hesitant to attend public functions, even if social distancing measures are observed. 

Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch opened the forum by saying that all questions and feedback were welcome, considering national concerns regarding repeated incidents of police brutality against minorities. 

“It’s okay to support the police and still have questions,” she said. “The murder of George Floyd [in Minneapolis] has forced a lot of needed discussion in communities, and that’s why I felt that it was important to have Chief Grogan here at this first community forum.”

Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck during an arrest in late May. The death sparked nationwide protests and calls for police reform to address use of force.

Grogan outlined Dunwoody’s protocol for use of force, emphasizing that these procedures have been in place for years.

“We do not carry batons, and we have always banned chokeholds,” he said. “We also have a policy that officers cannot shoot at a moving vehicle. We have had in-car cameras since the force started, and five years ago, we purchased body cameras for all of our officers.”

Grogan said all officers participate in an annual eight-hour course in de-escalation and some have completed a 40-hour course.

The police chief also addressed the racial makeup of the police department as compared to the citizens they serve. Dunwoody’s population, according to the 2010 census, is about 69 percent White, 13 percent Black, 11 percent Asian and 10 percent Hispanic. The police department’s demographic, according to Grogan, is 67 percent White, 13 percent Black, 3.2 percent Asian and 13 percent Hispanic.

“The only area where we really fall down is regarding female representation in our force,” he said. “Dunwoody has 48 percent, and we only have 11 percent in our department.”

Grogan also outlined the “rigorous” hiring procedures instituted by the department, which includes lie detector tests, psychiatric evaluations, personal interviews and drug screening.

“What we look for in an officer above all is a desire to serve,” he said. “Community engagement is what we are all about.”

During the community comment portion of the forum, Grogan would not answer questions about former police Lt. Fidel Espinoza, who resigned in May in the wake of sexual harassment allegations by former officers within the department.

Dunwoody resident Joe Hirsch, a longtime opponent of the city’s sign policy, asked Grogan why he had no knowledge of Espinoza’s activities, which allegedly spanned over years.

“I can’t comment on that because of pending litigation,” Grogan said.

Deutsch said she hopes to hold one or two more Mayor Meet-Ups during the fall.

Cathy covers local government and community news for the Dunwoody area.

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