Tom Gissler, 49
Position: Patrol officer
Started: April 2017
Quit: July 2020
Salary: $45,000 to $55,000 per year
As told to Laura Thompson
Three years in, I had basically arrived—I had been transferred to the day shift. It was the premier shift. You wanted to get the day shift because those are the best hours, good days off.
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. 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.”
It became this very aggressive policing strategy in the Bedford Pines. Which was strange. Because it was extremely rare for them to tell you to do anything. It’s unusual for them to give you very specific directions, and then for them to be very serious about it and follow up—I’d have supervisors show up and say, “Hey I drove by, there were some cars parked out there, did you ticket them?”
It made me very curious. So on my own time—I live in Atlanta, I live in the zone I policed, which is super rare—I drove over there and had a conversation with some people. I was like: “Hey, this is what I’m being asked to do. Why do you think that is? What’s going on?”
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.”
The only way you can evict or do anything like that is if the person who owns the apartment is convicted of a felony. So the Bedford Pines guys just went to the police department and said: “We want you to police in here, and we’re going to give you a section of Bedford Pines to actually have office space. And I want you to lock up as many people as possible so we can make these apartments vacant and we can knock ’em down.”
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?
I’m not a constitutional lawyer—that’s not my bag. 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. And yes, their boyfriends probably were dope boys and were up to no good or whatever, but they’d been doing the same thing forever, and they would continue to do the same thing forever. I don’t know what the problem was except that now there’s a multi-million-dollar skyrise next door to them.
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.
It wasn’t long before the riots started, but I started making noise right then. I was already pretty vocal about the fact that I wouldn’t lock people up for minor drug stuff. I didn’t feel great about ruining someone’s life over a dime bag of weed or whatever, so I just started trying to find a way to exit stage right.
It dawned on me that the entire system, the entire thing, was just a shitty mafia system. If you tried to do a good job and say, “I’m going to be a good cop, and I’m going to obey commands,” they would abandon you, charge you, leave you behind, and not even think twice. If you didn’t obey the rules, then they were gonna charge you for that. And if you tried to remain quiet and do your job, you are going to be a piece of modern-day redlining that way, too. There was no way that I could exist and feel good about it. And because I didn’t have to—and that’s the privilege part—I just decided not to.
When I told the department I was quitting, they said, “Good for you. If I could quit, I would quit.” My supervisor literally said: “Can we get together after work and you tell me what else I can do? I don’t know what else to do and I cannot stomach being here.”
Editor’s note: After talking with Mother Jones, Gissler relocated from Atlanta following what he believes to have been retaliation for quitting. He explained the situation in a subsequent message:
A report was made to the Division of Family and Children’s Services alleging abuse in my household. Also an allegation of animal abuse was made. Both allegations are very serious for anyone, but especially as law enforcement, because you cannot operate while under investigation. The presumption is that whoever filed the report assumed I was going to stay in law enforcement and the effect would be terror and hardship. DFACS was very cooperative and was able to see immediately that the allegations were unfounded and complained about the wasted resources. It was a shot across the bow meant to communicate that I shouldn’t be “noisy” while exiting.
My wife was especially blindsided by the ordeal and was truly terrified. Our leaving was necessary simply to insulate ourselves from such hijinks by distancing ourselves geographically. Currently, APD is filing random charges and administrative punishments around the department to discourage the hemorrhages in staffing. It has worked and people are quieting and hiding. It effectively stops officers from transferring or retiring if they are under investigation. Fortunately for me there is little they can do outside of this sort of thing or something very dumb like attempt to physically harm me, which would be harder now. That’s too dramatic to even consider.