“I’ve been able to grow as Atlanta grows,” said Atlanta Department of Corrections’ (DOC) Chief Patrick Labat, looking back on 30 years of service.
After serving for nine years as the department’s chief, and winning Detention Administrator of the Year by the Georgia Jail Association in 2015 and 2019, Labat has chosen to retire from his position to pursue a future with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department.
“I’m re-wiring, I’m not retiring. No one asked me to leave,” Labat said. “This is an opportunity for me. I’ve set my sights on a higher office. I am running for Sheriff of Fulton County.”
“I’ve learned a lot for 30 years, chief for nearly a decade, and it’s time to take some of the things that we’ve learned to a higher county level and really look at how we can change what public safety looks like as a whole and really become a part of the community.”
Earlier this week, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms presented the 52-year-old Atlanta native with the Phoenix Award—the highest honor the Mayor of Atlanta can bestow upon an individual.
“For three decades, Chief Labat has devoted his career to serving the people of Atlanta,” Bottoms said. “Whether implementing the PAT3 reentry program to ensure non-violent offenders had the dignity of a well-paying job or ensuring the city’s most vulnerable residents had their basic needs met, his work has had an impact on countless lives. I commend Chief for his service and wish him and his family well in the future.”
With Chief Labat’s retirement, Mayor Bottoms has appointed Corrections Assistant Chief Vance Williams to serve as interim Chief, which began on Wednesday, Dec. 11, Labat’s last day with the DOC.
Labat’s 30 years with the department started with a job as a corrections officer answering phones. After being promoted to a sergeant, he says left for a year to finish his education at Clark Atlanta University and was promoted to lieutenant after coming back.
“I was going to leave and go to law school after I finished Clark Atlanta University,” Labat said. “I actually left prior to my promotion as lieutenant to finish my education at Clark Atlanta.”
After getting his master’s degree from Columbus State University, Labat says he was promoted to a major before the City of Atlanta abolished two major positions which moved him back to a lieutenant.
However, he was eventually appointed as interim chief by former Mayor Kasim Reed and stayed in the position for a year until the Atlanta City Council unanimously voted him in.
Since his appointment by former Mayor Kasim Reed back in Oct. 2010, Labat has not only helped the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) maintain perfect scores of 100 on its accreditation with the American Correctional Association over the last nine years, but also aided the facility in achieving perfect scores on its Fulton County Health and Food Services inspections.
Additionally, he is credited with helping to create and successfully implement PAT3—a groundbreaking reentry program in partnership with the Georgia Department of Corrections, the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, the Atlanta Department of Public Works and the Urban League of Greater Atlanta. While there are many reentry initiatives through the country, PAT3 is unique in its design, as it allows non-violent incarcerated individuals to be employed full-time and earn wages at the City’s minimum salary of $15 per hour plus full benefits.
“Our re-entry program is like no other in the country,” Labat said. “It allows an individual to become a city employee while still incarcerated.”
“We partner with the (Georgia) Department of Corrections and the Urban League of Greater Atlanta to develop a program where instead of a person leaving with $25 and a bus ticket from prison, they leave with a job in many cases. We’ve had a few people leave with $10,000-$20,000 in the banks. But equally important is that they don’t have to look for a job. It’s a true second chance.”
And his efforts have gone further in the community than anyone would have expected.
“We’ve taken and gone beyond the walls of the jail like nobody ever thought we could. And what that did was it allowed us to realize that our hearts are bigger than our badges and allowed us to really be apart of the community, not just in the community,” Labat said.
He says that he’s very proud of how his department has taken the lead with the City’s warming stations for the last several years, acquired several grants to provide care for the mentally ill and aided in feeding Atlanta’s senior population.
“One of the things that we have done in our partnership with our community is really communicate and be apart of our most valuable resource in Atlanta, and that’s our senior citizens,” Labat said. “Every Tuesday and Wednesday, for the past five or six years, we have provided 200-300 meals for our seniors.”
And his team also actively works to connect law enforcement with Atlanta’s youth, with Labat being the co-founder of the department’s Junior Corrections Officer Leadership Academy, which hopes to reach youth before their choices land them on the wrong side of the law.
“We take them through the jail. We take them through the courts. We take them through several different homeless shelters,” Labat said. “We also take them to Hartsfield-Jackson and let them see what they have not ordinarily experienced in their young childhood, an opportunity to go to the control towers.”
“And equally important we also take them to the morgue where we can further have that conversation about what their choices look like.”
Labat says that his team goes as far as going into elementary schools to impact very young children.
“We understand that we can’t arrest our way out of any incarceration problem so we’ve partnered with several elementary schools with APS and started to help our youth learn to read, connecting law enforcement with our youth at a very early age.”
More recently, Labat has backed Mayor Bottoms in her efforts to repurpose ACDC, a facility that he has looked after and drastically improved since he stepped on the job nine years ago.
“I think the biggest issue is the conversation that the Mayor continues to have and that’s the repurposing of Atlanta Detention Center,” Labat said. “The realization that we still process nearly 19,000 people a year is one that has really come to surface. So I certainly agree with the mayor that we don’t need 478,00 square feet to do that.”
“Everybody needs to understand that when you lock somebody up you don’t just lock that individual up, you lock their family up. Uncles, sisters, brothers, people who may not have had an encounter with law enforcement.”
Overall, Labat says that he is satisfied with what he’s done for the city of Atlanta and is looking forward to putting that same experience to improve Fulton County.
“Our goal over the last 10 years has been realized for me, and that’s how do we become apart of the fabric of Atlanta proper? And now I want to take that to Fulton county as a whole,” Labat said.
“There’s no reason that we should not have the most successful and well-prepared sheriff’s office in the country. It does not speak well that crime is where it is. We have to focus on our crime, we have to focus on our community and really present a united front with all 15 cities inside Fulton county. (We) shouldn’t have one city in my opinion that is safer than another.”
And just like the DOC, Labat wants to make sure that the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office gets a raise.
“Once we were able to provide a level of customer service and community engagement we had to really embrace our staff and say, ‘You know what? You deserve a pay raise like just like police, just like fire.’”
He makes these claims on the same day as Mayor Bottoms’ announcement for the most significant pay increase for the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department in 15 years.
“Fulton County is the largest county of the 159 counties in the state of Georgia,” Labat said. “We should be paid as much. We’re asking so much of our women and men, both in and out of uniform.”
“The other thing that we have to make sure is that our women and men have the best equipment and technology. Those are the things that have helped us in the past and I predict in the future will actually allow us to have the best sheriff’s office in the country.”
Labat continues, “It is so important to me that we continue to work from where we are and build relationships in Atlanta and surrounding areas. Atlanta has been good to me and I want to make sure, whatever capacity I am in, that I am able to give back to my hometown.”