Strategic Move: CSU Master's Degree Equips Atlanta Police Chief

 From Focus magazine, Fall 2013

By Bill Sutley

hanks in part to lessons learned at Columbus State, the Atlanta Police Department has a new strategic plan to guide its 1,600-plus officers over the next five years.

George N. Turner, Atlanta's police chief since 2012, says he was equipped to guide creation of a new plan as a result of classes he took en route to a CSU Master of Public Administration in 2009.

While working on the MPA through CSU's Command College, Turner said he began evaluating his department's mission and vision statements to "see how accurate they were for the time."

"Quite frankly, they were really well done," Turner said in an April interview. "But the other piece was no one in the department knew the mission and vision."

That's when Turner started working on what would become a more formal, more widely shared strategic plan. "Every time I came down here for class, I was able to take information back and begin to implement changes,"

Turner said after being honored April 23 at an annual awards ceremony as an outstanding alumnus of CSU's College of Letters and Sciences.

In recent years, since Turner became one of the Atlanta police force's first Command College graduates, about 30 veteran officers of his department have traveled south for the graduate-level classes taken by about 1,000 top police executives throughout the state over the last 17 years.

Turner had nearly completed an education degree at Clark Atlanta University when he was first hired as an APD officer in 1981. In 2005, after several promotions through the chain of command, he was told he had "reached the ceiling" where another promotion could not occur without a college degree. That's when Turner refocused on his education, completing a bachelor's in criminal justice from Saint Leo University and then finished his MPA at Columbus State.

A colleague at the state level, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan, MPA '98, called Turner "one of the finest executives in the law enforcement profession."

"He is respected throughout the criminal justice community for his integrity, intellect and professionalism," Keenan said.

Turner's rise through the ranks coincided with a "tremendous reduction in overall crime in Atlanta," with homicides alone falling from 247 in 1989 to 83 in 2012.

"We're leading the nation in intelligence-driven policing and being looked at as a model in how to police," Turner said. "It's because of the strategic outlook in how we try to make a difference in our city.

Much of Atlanta's policing intelligence comes in the form of data derived from analysis of past crimes and about 1.1 million 911 calls and other calls for service received annually. That gives Turner's sergeants information to make better decisions about where officers should patrol to prevent or anticipate crime.

"The idea is not to react after a crime but to be in an area where we predict a crime might occur," Turner said.

Also contributing to decreases in crime is the city's growing integrated network of cameras in public areas, with about 90 percent of more than 2,500 cameras owned by private businesses and other groups cooperating with the APD to provide live feeds.

"We hope to grow that to about 10,000 cameras," he said.

Speaking just days after similar cameras led to arrests in the Boston Marathon bombings, Turner noted that his police force deals with crowds that are about two and a half times larger at Atlanta's popular annual 10K, the Peachtree Road Race.

"We will benefit from a network of cameras we've deployed," he said.

Turner says the tight economy has allowed his department to get better-educated officers and be more selective in recruiting and training about 250 recruits from 8,000 applicants each year. "We have a very high threshold," he said.

One recent recruit had a doctorate and two master's degrees.

"We're bringing into the department a wide variety of people who have a wide range of skill sets," he said. "We're hoping that, because of the work we're doing, we'll be able to keep these people around."

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Photo captions (from top):

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner talks with co-anchor Tracye Hutchins during her Better Mornings Atlanta show on CBS Atlanta Channel 46.

Congratulating Turner after hee was honored by the College of Letters and Sciences in April are then-Dean David Lanoue, left, and Archie Rainey, director of CSU's Command College.