City Council to debate powers of police oversight board
Today, Atlanta City Council members may decide just how far they want to go with independent oversight of their police force.
It’s only a work session. But the council’s Public Safety Committee has set aside two whole hours to address a standoff between police officials and a civilian review board that wants access to internal affairs files.
The law creating the Citizen Review Board gives it “full access” to police files, including those kept by the Office of Professional Standards.
But the department has refused to turn that material over, notably in the Dec. 19 shooting death of Pierre George by an Atlanta officer. Police initially said George had kidnapped a pedestrian at gunpoint, but no gun was found at the scene.
When the board tried to subpoena files in that case, Mayor Shirley Franklin pushed back, proposing to curtail the board’s powers so it could only access public records. That would rule out files in all open cases, including internal affairs investigations run by the department’s Office of Professional Standards.
Complicating the matter: Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard’s office routinely reviews every shooting incident by local police in his jurisdiction.
Sometimes the DA’s office moves quickly. Officer Reginald Fisher was arrested yesterday for a non-fatal shooting that occurred three weeks ago.
Sometimes not. “Paul Howard said sometimes it takes two years to complete an investigation. And then Internal Affairs doesn’t start until that is done,” said Cris Beamud, the board’s executive director. “So you do the math.”
The board’s chairman, attorney Rod Edmond, has objected strenuously to the effort to leash in its authority. “The ordinance change will effectively give control of the ACRB to the very agency that it was created to oversee, namely the Atlanta Police Department,” he said in an a May 12 position statement. “This is unacceptable.”
Last month, the board voted to open its own inquiry into the 2006 shooting death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, the incident that prompted the board’s creation.
The botched drug raid and ensuing investigation has led to convictions for five Atlanta officers in federal court. Other lingering issues are unresolved, including reports of an arrest quota for Atlanta officers and evidence of a “protection” ring that shook down businesses in high-crime areas for police service.
APD is actively working the case, but did not get started until federal prosecutors were done. The FBI gave its findings in the case to Police Chief Richard Pennington last November, but Beamud said the chief has refused to give her a copy.
Pennington said in February he would probably release it to the public “real soon.”
The Public Safety Committee meets today from noon to 2 p.m. at City Hall, Committee Room 2.