Oakwood Police Chief Tim Hatch says his priority is to hire officers who aren’t just trying to cash paychecks but those who want to invest in their community. However, recruiting a more diverse staff has presented challenges.
The police chief sat down with the Newtown Florist Club, Gainesville’s civil rights group, on Monday, March 8, to discuss the hiring process, his thoughts on having a department that mirrors its community and other issues affecting law enforcement.
The meeting was part of the club’s “Public Policy Committee George Floyd Initiative,” which has been ongoing since summer protests and open-air conversations began in 2020.
Floyd, 46, died May 25 while being detained by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A widely circulated video showed officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Newtown Florist Club shared a list of policy recommendations with law enforcement leaders at those open-air conversations following Floyd’s death, including prioritizing minority hiring, body cameras for all officers, a citizen oversight committee on use-of-force incidents and more.
In February, the club sat down with Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish to discuss updates on the policy recommendations.
The Rev. Rose Johnson, the club’s executive director, said Hatch was one of the law enforcement leaders who attended the open-air conversations and approached the club about his ideas.
“This is one of our ways of continuing our efforts at community education and awareness and continuing to engage law enforcement officials on all levels [about] the reforms that we sought initially and as we continue to move forward considering what other communities might be doing around similar issues,” Johnson said. “We are just trying to stay the course and keep the community informed.”
Hatch said his mindset on hiring is to find people of a “high moral character” and people who want to serve their community.
“Somebody comes to me for a job and they say, ‘I like your benefits and I just need a place to work.’ That’s already a lower standard that we’re not looking for,” Hatch said.
Of the 20-person department, Hatch said there are two Black officers and one Hispanic officer.
According to the U.S. Census’ 2019 American Community Survey estimates for Oakwood, the city’s demographics are 61.8% White, 7.9% Black, 26.4% Hispanic/Latino and 1.8% Asian.
Hatch said the tough part for his department has been recruiting, particularly enticing people from culturally diverse areas to join the ranks.
“We have a particular difficult time in getting people from the Black community to serve in law enforcement,” the chief said. “I guess it’s probably a trust issue by and large. I don’t really know.”
Hatch said he believes the way to show people that you are trustworthy is to remain open and answer tough questions as they come.
“I don’t believe for a minute that people around here want to defund the police,” Hatch said. “There’s not a movement that really gets behind that here in our area. How do we keep it that way? How do we keep your trust to where you say, ‘Hey, no, don’t take away my Oakwood Police Department or my Hall County police’?”
When asked by Johnson about the “defund the police” issue, Hatch said he believed the program idea of social workers collaborating with law enforcement in the field was something that “needs to be addressed a little bit deeper than that.”
“The tip of the iceberg is dealing with the crisis in the moment of crisis,” Hatch said. “The other portion of the iceberg that you don’t see … is the support for that. Where are you going to take this person whose in crisis at the point that you finally have them de-escalated and calm and what kind of counseling is available for them? And what kind of hospital scenario can you go to?”
Hatch said there is mandatory training in de-escalation and bias each year. The Times has reached out to learn more from the chief on how much training is required annually.
Christine Osasu, who grew up in Oakwood, asked the chief during the meeting, “Do you think there is an issue of racial bias within the Oakwood Police?”
“I don’t know that you can get people of different backgrounds together and not have some level of bias,” Hatch said. “I think the problem with bias is when it comes to control your mindset. It comes to control your actions.”