Police Accountability Group Discusses Search for New Chief
(APN) ATLANTA — With Atlanta’s 2009 municipal elections now over and a new Mayor set to take office in January 2010, Atlanta’s police accountability and public safety advocacy groups are turning their attention to the search for a new chief for the Atlanta Police Department (APD).
Mayor-elect Kasim Reed named George Turner, a long-time Atlanta Police Department veteran, the Interim Acting Police Chief on December 09, 2009, to preside over the department until a permanent replacement is named for outgoing Chief Richard Pennington.
Turner, who oversees the city’s crime lab and 911 communications center, will take his post when Reed is sworn in on January 04.
During a press conference announcing Turner’s appointment, Reed said he wants to form a search committee and name a permanent chief within the first 120 days of his Administration.
“I don’t know much about him. I think for an acting chief, he seems fine,” Kyle Keyser, founder of Atlantans Together against Crime (ATAC) and an openly homosexual former Mayoral candidate, said of Turner. “From what I got out of the press conference, Turner being born at Grady and growing up in a housing project and rising up through the ranks, I like that. The people I talk to within the police force, they seem to like him.”
Moki Macias, a lead organizer with Building Locally to Organize for Community Safety (BLOCS), told APN that Reed promised spots on the police chief search committee to representatives from BLOCS; the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 623; and to the Atlanta Citizen Review Board during a meeting before the election.
“I’ve approached the Mayor-elect and asked to be on the search committee, either me or somebody from my group,” Keyser told APN. “I’d certainly like to be a part of it.”
Keyser said he respects BLOCS and the Mayor-elect for committing to include them in the search.
“That impressed me because [Reed] didn’t have to do that,” Keyser said. “It shows that he’s open, at least.”
About two dozen members of BLOCS gathered Thursday evening, December 17, 2009, at the Atlanta-Fulton County Library to discuss top qualities they would like to see in the new chief, what the top priorities should be, and who might potentially represent the group on an eventual search committee.
The group agreed the chief should have several qualities: community-minded, approachable, respectful, and loyal.
They also want a chief who understands the importance of the Atlanta Citizen Review Board (ACRB), giving it real subpoena power; a leader who addresses the root causes of crime rather than filling jail cells; a chief who emphasizes better training for all officers; and someone who can ensure the city’s public safety resources are utilized properly.
Keyser said Friday he agrees the chief should be community-minded and approachable. He also wants a chief who promotes training and outreach to minority communities.
Keyser reflected on how the overall public safety debate in Atlanta has evolved over the course of 2009.
“Initially it was about ending the furloughs, getting the full resources on the street,” he said. “The group evolved, with the help of groups like BLOCS, saying ‘hang on a second, let’s look at this. There’s some other issues here. We need to focus on resources that we have.’ Once you’re maximizing your dollar, you’re going to get better results.”
Atlanta City Council President-elect Ceasar Mitchell stopped by the BLOCS meeting to offer words of support.
“Do not hesitate to use me as a resource and keep my feet to the fire,” he said. “We have a serious issue in our community that needs to be addressed.”
Mitchell noted that events like the 2006 murder of Kathryn Johnston, 92, a northwest Atlanta resident who was shot and killed by three undercover police officers who barged into her home with a no-knock warrant, are “issues of contradictions.”
“When we have an elder in our community being killed by folks who are supposed to be there to help stop the crime, that’s a problem,” Mitchell said.
He argued it is important to fully fund the ACRB and give it the power to make it an effective check on police power.
“I see the ACRB as being very important… in how we address police procedures in our community,” he said.
ACRB Executive Director Cris Beamud was on hand to discuss some of the challenges facing the board.
For one, Beamud said officers have being unwilling to cooperate with ACRB investigations.
“Citizen complaints can be a real mirror about services you are providing,” she said. “Chief Pennington has not required police to comply with citizen investigations. In the long-run, that seeks to undermine the board.”
Shortly before the General Election, as previously reported by APN, BLOCS sent a letter to each Mayoral candidate. The letter asked them to commit to appointing a chief who publicly commits to ensuring full cooperation with the ACRB, including disciplining officers who refuse.
Beamud said the board has subpoena power “but we have to go to the Committee on Council to get a subpoena.”
“It’s a long process,” she said. “They pass it around like a hot potato.”
Keyser told APN he believes the board needs subpoena power but there are “valid concerns on either side” of the debate.
“I think a strong leader who understands the importance of a Citizen Review Board could help find the right answer there,” he said. “It’s a really difficult issue between the two groups and it’s going to take some strong leadership to reach an agreement and maybe even take some lobbying… to emphasize the importance of a citizen review board.”
The issue could come to a head if the ACRB calls for a full investigation of the APD’s Red Dog unit.
As previously reported by APN, on September 10, 2009, 15 police cars and three paddy wagons converged on the Eagle, a gay bar on Ponce de Leon Avenue, with 25 members of the Red Dog unit.
According to eyewitness accounts, the bar’s patrons were forced to lie face down with their hands above their heads for over an hour. Several witnesses alleged some officers used profane language and homophobic slurs. The raid netted no drugs or weapons.
“The Eagle raid certainly brought a lot of issues to light,” Keyser told APN. “I felt in the middle and it really forced me to really examine it, how to move forward intelligently.”
The event sparked several protests and BLOCS asked the mayoral candidates to call for and support a full ACRB investigation of Red Dog and to follow through with any recommendations that may result.
All of the candidates did sign the pledge before the General Election.
For now, Keyser said he is approaching the search for a chief with optimism and an open mind.
“I’m remaining engaged in public safety but I want to approach this administration with a positive approach,” Keyser told APN. “I want to give [Reed] the benefit of the doubt and try to remain an independent voice at this point. I want him to succeed because I want Atlanta to be safer.”
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