By Marshall A. Latimore
Forest Park Police Chief Clark, who accepted the role in mid-April, has announced a number of significant changes to the department, which are meant to address several key issues. Some of the issues include systematic financial mismanagement, surveillance of Forest Park City Council members, and restructuring.
Shortly after arriving at the Forest Park Police Department, Clark requested an independent audit into the department’s operations. That audit — performed by the auditing firm of Mauldin and Jenkins — identified a number of deficiencies.
Those included problems in its inventory control of weapons and ammunition, accounting irregularities, and systemic failures in compliance with the department’s standard operating procedures. An additional investigation into these matters determined that department funds were unaccounted for.
The former Chief’s administrative assistant, Susan Ridling, reported that she was directed, in violation of the City’s code, to cash thousands of dollars in checks without accounting records for the cash.
The reports also suggested thousands of dollars in training ammunition were sold to officers for cash without being in compliance with accounting measures to track the cash flow.
Ridling and the officer overseeing the ammunition sales, Major Chris Matson, have been terminated.
“I am committed to addressing the findings of the audit and investigation, and to moving the department forward,” Clark said. “Our officers are committed to serving the citizens and guests of Forest Park and turning this department into a world-class police agency,” Chief Clark said.
Additional changes to the department include:
- The department will now have two Deputy Chiefs of Police
- Officers will now be rotated among duty positions more frequently to ensure officers gain a broader set of skills via cross-training
- Captains were recently sent to advanced leadership training
- Enhanced outreach initiatives will engage the public as partners in law enforcement
In addition to the mismanagement identified by the audit, officers within the department reported a matter involving surveillance of two city councilmembers, Latresa Wells and Dabouze Antoine.
The pretext of the investigation centered around unsubstantiated allegations that the two were involved in voter fraud and illegal drug activities. An immediate investigation had been ordered.
The investigation showed that members of the now-disbanded VIPER Task Force physically followed, watched, monitored and photographed the two council members.
Pole-mounted cameras near homes were utilized and activities by the councilpersons were notated.
In addition, their curbside garbage bins were emptied, contents collected and reviewed and, in some instances, processed as potential evidence.
Based on the investigation, nothing was found to substantiate the allegations. All matters referencing financial mismanagement and surveillance of the council members have been referred to the GBI.
“On behalf of the residents of the City of Forest Park, I extend my apologies to Councilwoman Wells and Councilman Antoine, and I extend my gratitude to (Clark) for making every effort to help us move past this situation in a positive manner,” said Forest Park City Mayor Angelyne Butler. “ Clark has complete and full support from me, the City Manager and the City Council as he continues to make much-needed changes at the police department, including reassignments, changes in policy, separations of some officers, and criminal charges if necessary.”
Butler continued, “We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable and punished to the full extent of the law. We now need to restore and build the highest possible level of trust between the entire Forest Park community and the police department — that will be one of the highest priorities of this City Council.”
This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Voice.