Feb 23, 2022 - News

Two years after Ahmaud Arbery's murder, Glynn County's new police chief strives to rebuild trust

Image of person holding a sign of Ahmaud Arbery

Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Two years ago today Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging down a suburban Brunswick street. His death resonated nationwide after a video of the murder went viral months later.

Driving the news: In Arbery’s native Glynn County, the effects of his death are still reverberating and translating into substantive change within the county’s law enforcement and judicial system.

  • Much scrutiny has landed on the county police officers who responded to the scene of Arbery’s murder. They did not arrest any of the men present, even though two of them possessed guns and literally had blood on their hands.

Two years later, that department is embarking on major structural changes and reforms, led by a newly sworn in police chief.

Catch up quick: The Glynn County police force has a checkered past featuring allegations of corruption, scandals and a persistent lack of accountability for misconduct, according to investigations by outlets including NPR and The Current.

State of play: After a national search co-led by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Jacques Battiste was sworn in as chief in December, the first Black person to hold the position full time.

Battiste tells Axios in an interview his goal is to bring "transformative change" to the department and to help the officers and the community "not only to heal but to begin to trust each other again."

  • He has overseen a pilot implicit bias/community outreach training for command staff. There are plans for other above-and-beyond trainings, including for mental health crisis intervention and programs to help officers recognize issues with their colleagues.
  • This month the commission passed a countywide payscale reset, the first in a decade, which Battiste said has done a lot to recruit new talent, and even bring back some who had left.
  • He said the department is also looking for ways to "get beyond policing" by assigning officers to attend community events and facilitating internship programs for young people. "All of these things serve to greater enhance people’s understanding of law enforcement," he said.

What theyre saying: County Commissioner Allen Booker said they’ve already seen positive change with Battiste present. “Without the chief setting the tone none of this would have been possible,” Booker said. “We’d still be in a situation where the Black community would not be trusting the police.”

Fellow County Commissioner Cap Fendig said of the changes, “There’s still a lot to go. We’re not through. I think this is the beginning of a process of change that needs to occur on all levels and relationships.”

Glynn County community organizer and activist Bobby Henderson said there’s "an intentionality about public accountability that was not there before." But, while there’s "hope that we’ve turned a corner," Henderson cautions, there’s still work to be done.

What’s next: After the three men who murdered Arbery were found guilty on all charges in two trials, eyes turn to the Georgia attorney general’s prosecution of former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson. She was indicted last fall for alleged misconduct surrounding the lack of prosecution of Arbery’s death.

Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement that despite the indictment, his office’s “full investigation continues. Our goal is to ensure maximum justice for Ahmaud, his family, the community, our state and our nation.”

  • Many have also called into question the conduct of another nearby DA involved in the case, George Barnhill, as well as the police officers who responded to the scene.

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