From being chief of the Atlanta Police Department to serving as vice president of safety and security for the Atlanta Hawks NBA team and Philips Arena, George Turner has embraced his mission to serve his community. He was educated in the Atlanta Public Schools, and attended Clark Atlanta University to play football. “I hoped to be an engineer,” he said. “Then I thought I was going to play pro football. But life happened.”
Turner married Cathy, the woman he loved, and dropped out of Clark without his degree. “That was my journey, and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said.
He applied for a position with the Atlanta Police Department because he needed a job. “It became a profession for me,” he said.
Turner rose through the ranks, despite failing the exam to be promoted to the rank of sergeant on his first attempt. Once he became a sergeant, he created the Gangs and Guns Unit. As a major, he commanded the Human Resources Section and the Northwest section of Atlanta, a challenging precinct.
While he progressed in the department, he knew he wanted to be chief. “I enrolled at Saint Leo with a clear vision of why my education was important,” Turner said. He chose Saint Leo because of the convenient locations—he was living in Marietta, GA, with his family and studied at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Fort Gillem, and Fort McPherson when the university offered programs at those Georgia locations.
As a working adult, he could attend one or more classes a week while raising a family. “I was a major working in a precinct in a difficult area,” Turner said. “And I had two children in college at the same time. Fortunately, the city of Atlanta helped pay for college on a policeman’s salary.”
Going back to college helped him learn to multitask, he said, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Saint Leo in 2008. “When I became a chief [in 2010], I had 3,000 employees, sworn and civilian,” Turner said. “Going to school, managing work, studies, and family, I was able to handle the job as I rose up the ranks. My courses in religion helped me focus my attention on where it needed to be. I realized where my source is.”
Turner said he was blessed to have Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as a mentor, beginning when Young was mayor of Atlanta. “He inspired me to reshape my goal and my mission,” Turner said. “He even helped me financially. He encouraged me to go back and get my master’s degree.”
Turner’s support system also includes his family—wife Cathy; children Timothy, Tiffany, Thomas, and Thaddaeus; seven grandchildren; siblings; and cousins.
The community remains a focus for Turner. “Look at where we are in America today,” he said. “Police officers have to be part of the community. They have to live and understand the concept of community. We have to do more to break down barriers.”
There are 1.2 million calls for service to the Atlanta Police Department a year, Turner said. “Police have become the one stable area in a community. They are called to solve social ills.”
Turner’s advice to those pursuing a career in criminal justice: “If you want to make a difference rather than just complaining, come in and make a difference. We need a different mind-set. The field needs to be diverse—just like the community.”
When Turner retired from the Atlanta Police Department in 2016, he was most proud of the relationship he had built with the community and businesses. The clearance in homicide cases was up to 84 percent. “This took relationship building,” he said. “That doesn’t happen overnight.”
He was looking for something new and exciting for the next chapter of his life, and his new position with the Hawks and the arena should provide it.
In April, Turner gave the Saint Leo WorldWide commencement address (left) at University Campus for students who had studied online and at education centers. Reflecting on his own journey, he told the Class of 2017, “It doesn’t matter where you start; it only matters that you keep on going.”