Recalling Gerald Ford's visit


Published: Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 11:52 p.m.
On the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 27, I was awakened by the news that ex-President Gerald Ford, 93, had passed away. I, along with many others, had watched his ongoing struggles with his health.
He was a special person in my life because of the part he played in establishing a legacy at the Gainesville Police Department.
I served as the chief of police at GPD from September 1980, until October 1984. Prior to that time I was a member of the St. Louis Police Department. Upon joining the GPD, working with City Manger Orville Powell and the City Commission, I was alerted to a number of factors that needed to be addressed immediately: Crime statistics showed we were rated No. 3 in the nation. Many in the minority community felt they were being harassed by the police. There were indications of misuse of firearms by police; the death of an on-duty police officer by shots fired accidentally by another police officer.
By working with members of the community, public safety personnel, the Sheriff's Office, university police and the highway patrol we were able to lower the crime statistics. Advisory boards played a major role in improving relations between the minority community and the Police Department. The Police Department changed its firearms policy: The new directive was to not shoot at fleeing felons unless the life of the victims or the officers were in jeopardy.
This police procedure was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court (Tennessee vs. Ferguson). The policy action taken by GPD in regard to firearms use was one of the first in the nation.
GPD had always advocated citizen cooperation, it had traditionally enjoyed only limited success. A major effort to improve citizen and police relations was to devise a formal ceremony to recognize officers for exemplary, courageous or prolonged dedication and innovative service to the community. Additionally, the award concept recognized and commended citizens who had performed a courageous act or assisted police by reporting criminal acts or unusual occurrences. This was a major success, both to the community and the GPD.
In an effort to commend the citizens of Gainesville, the GPD and all of public safety for their efforts in reducing crime and tension in Gainesville, we decided to contact President Ford's office for assistance. We were told by others, of various groups, that the president had a strong desire to provide assistance when communities expressed a need. We requested that President Ford come to Gainesville to commend the Police Department and the community for its collective efforts to reduce the crime, and improve relations.
When the University of Florida found out Ford was coming to Gainesville, they asked him to change the date to a time so the university could be involved. We changed our dates for December 1982, enabling us to work with UF.
The president's visit was very warm and thought provoking. I spent an hour with him explaining GPD's action plan. He requested copies that he could share with other communities. His message to the men and women of GPD was one of thanks and support. He also noted his appreciation that the GPD and the University Of Florida were able to work out their schedule.
It is important to the legacy of President Gerald Ford that the community be advised of his thoughts and actions in a time of need. It was an experience that we will always cherish. All of our GPD personnel and people in the community felt we were something special because of the president's visit.
I hope that our community will set aside a place in their hearts for President Gerald Ford, who stepped up to the plate for us and for our community.
Atkins W. Warren is a former Gainesville chief of police.

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