Ex-Atlanta cop on quitting over gentrification: It was ‘a Mafia system’

An Atlanta cop revealed his law enforcement career abruptly ended after he quit the force in protest of gentrification arrests

After he learned the Atlanta Police Department was working with local building developers to arrest and evict Black residents to aid in gentrification, a white police officer resigned.

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Published by Mother Jones, in its editorial project created to share the stories of people who “quit,” the three-year police officer told his story. Identified as 49-year-old Tom Gissler, the former officer detailed how he was instructed to heavily police an apartment complex in the city’s Old Fourth Ward section where most residents are Black.

“On my beat, they started telling me, ‘We really want you to start policing this section of Boulevard and Ponce de Leon Avenue — basically the Bedford Pines Apartments,’” Gissler, who started in April 2017 and left the force in July of this year, wrote in the essay. He continued sharing how his superiors informed him to tow cars, run background checks, and take people into custody.

“We think there are dope boys in there. We think there’s a lot of illegal activity happening and we want to really focus there. So we’re gonna put up signs that say you can’t park on the street. I want you to go and write tickets on every single car that’s on the street and I want you to get those cars out of there; if they don’t move, tow ’em. I want you to start running checks on everybody standing on the street; if they have got warrants, I want you to lock ’em up,” Gissler said he was told.

Gissler spoke to residents after receiving the explicit directive. As a resident of the area himself, he hoped to gain insight into community issues. Homeowners informed the former officer that the owners of the complex allegedly wanted to tear down the residence in alignment with gentrification trends in the city. The complex owners were unable to price out residents by raising rents so getting their tenants arrested was plan B.

Bedford PIne apartments, Atlanta (Apartments.com)
Bedford PIne apartments, Atlanta (Apartments.com)

“A homeowner in the area was very frank with me. He said the guys who own Bedford Pines got their tax bill last year, and their taxes were assessed based on all the gentrification that’s happening in the area. And so they wanted to move everybody out of these apartments and knock ’em down and rebuild these nice expensive apartments and the government said no. And so then they said, ‘Well, that’s ok, we’ll just increase the rent.’ They tried to increase the rent and the Section 8 guys came back out and said, ‘No, you can’t do that either,’” he wrote in the Mother Jones essay.

Gissler says he was told the only way to evict a person is if they were convicted of a felony, so the building’s owners allegedly enlisted the police for support in their displacement efforts. Gissler claimed upon learning this information, he went to his higher-ups who confirmed the plot.

“I go to my supervisors: Is this what the case is? And they looked at me like, what are you, stupid? Of course, why else would we be doing this?” he remembered.

Gissler, who had already made clear he would not “lock people up for minor drug stuff,” said the experience opened his eyes to realizing law enforcement as a ” shitty Mafia system.”

“I’m not even a political activist. But something about that smacks of institutional racism, right? I mean, there wasn’t a white person in this whole complex. Most of the renters were single Black girls who are just trying to, you know, make their way in the world” he wrote. “There was something about that that made me think now, when I clock into work, I’m not doing any good. I’m actually doing harm.”

According to the Mother Jones report, he relocated shortly after quitting after he alleged retaliation followed his leave departure from the APD. Claims of child abuse and animal abuse were made against him, in what Gissler said was an attempt to get him to stay.

A police officer wearing a body cam is seen during a demonstration on May 31, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
A police officer wearing a body cam is seen during a demonstration on May 31, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

In a statement provided to theGrio, the Atlanta Police Department said the area near Bedford Pine apartments was targeted strictly for its escalating crime.

“The 600 block of Parkway (near the apartment complex) has been an area well known for the sale of narcotics and other crime to include several shootings over the past year. Officers have been able to identify a lot of the vehicles parked in the roadway in front of the complex as a base of operation for the drug sales and other incidents. To combat this, APD in conjunction with the City of Atlanta designated the area a no parking zone. Multiple “No Parking” signs were put into place well in advance of any enforcement, with the date and time the new rules went into effect on each sign.”

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The statement continued Only after this, were any parking tickets issued or any vehicles impounded. Additionally, we did partner with private security at the location to issue criminal trespass orders to non-residents that were suspected to be involved in the aforementioned crime. No orders to stop citizens and perform background checks for anyone standing on the sidewalks were given.”

According to Curbed Atlanta, in 2017, the first phase of an affordable 80-unit senior housing development, City Lights, was built down the street from the Bedford Pine apartments which are still advertising on Apartmentfinder.com. Apartments listed as nearby start at $1,000 and up. A second development next to City Lights, Station 464, a 96-unit affordable income building for families, is under construction.

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