Compassion and empathy may not be the first two words that come to mind when people think of law enforcement.
But those two concepts are an important part of new Flowery Branch Police Chief David Spillers’ community policing philosophy.
“A lot of police officer-citizen encounters are initially formed around a conflict,” he said. “The person may be accused of doing something, accused of a crime, a traffic violation, or people are arguing and the police are called to intervene and keep peace.
“Necessarily, those relationships start from a conflict point of view. Sometimes that can’t be helped; they can only be resolved in conflict. But I think the majority of time they can be resolved with a bit more compassion, a bit more empathy.”
And it’s a philosophy that works, Spillers said.
“It’s so much more successful, the experiences that I’ve had through the (Hall County) sheriff’s office and my six years here,” he said. “The outcomes have been far more beneficial to people when they’re handled that way, than contrarily.”
He listed Hall County’s Drug Court as a prime example of how that approach can help.
“The answer is not always to lock somebody up and throw away the key,” he said.
Spillers has served as chief in the interim position since Aug. 23, when former Chief Gerald Lanich retired. Spillers began his career in 1982 with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew said Spillers was right for the job.
“With a small department you either get a young guy who’s in his 30s and has got a master’s degree and wants to change the world, and gets here and doesn’t realize we’re a small community policing oriented group — we don’t have a fancy investigative unit or K-9 unit or all that kind of thing,” he said. “Or you get someone who’s retired from another department, but that is just serving out his time to get Social Security or whatever and all that,” he added, with a laugh.
With Spillers they get something better, he said, but his role as interim chief didn’t make the job automatic.
“He and I met at least once a week to just review how things were going and all that. There was a sincere process to see if we felt he matched what we needed, and he did,” Andrew said.
Spillers said that as a small department, officers are always prepared to wear different hats.
“The people who work here at least have two different jobs. One is their own and one is the next job above them, whatever that responsibility might be,” he said. “Chief Lanich had trained me to act as his replacement in the event that he could not serve as some point in time.”
He attended Chief’s Association School as part of that training, he said, as will the sergeant under him now.
He has high hopes for the department under his command.
“We want to move the police department closer to a community-oriented police department,” he said, a continuation of goals Lanich had worked on for a number of years.
And in the end, compassion is just an outgrowth of that philosophy.
“It’s about better rapport with the citizens, with me. I want the officers that work here to know the people that live here by name. I want them to know their families. I want them to be able to provide a service beyond the occasional speeding ticket and window tint ticket,” he said. “I want them to be compassionate when there’s something that requires compassion and empathy. Those things are very important as far as law enforcement-citizen encounters.”