Reform of Atlanta Citizen Review Board Underway, as Covington Forms CRB
(APN) ATLANTA — Reforming the Atlanta Citizen Review Board (ACRB), which investigates civilian complaints against police, is finally up for discussion at Atlanta City Hall.
Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr. (District 3) introduced proposed reforms toward the end of the council meeting on February 15, 2015.
Atlanta Progressive News reported that Samuel Lee Reid, director of the ACRB, originally presented a reform proposal to council members in May 2015.
Reid told APN that he does not know what the holdup was, but that he is glad the proposal is moving forward.
“We will hopefully have a new ordinance soon,” Reid said.
The City of Atlanta formed the ACRB after the 2006 murder of Kathryn Johnston, an elderly woman who was shot to death by Atlanta police officers during an illegal raid.
While the organization serves an important oversight role, it has also come under fire for dismissing a large number of complaints, lacking transparency, and other issues. These, Reid has said, stem from limitations in the law and how the board is structured.
Young read a personal paper outlining the reforms his legislation covers, and it seemed to touch on all of the issues the ACRB proposal tackled.
As it stands, Young’s legislation would:
- Broaden board jurisdiction (right now the ACRB dismissed thirty percent of complaints because they fall outside the board’s purview);
- Allow anonymous complaints;
- Increase board membership;
- Add board training requirements;
- Create new quorum requirements;
- Create new outreach requirements;
- Require compensation for board members;
- Revise board term limits;
- Create rules for the removal board members;
- Revise the minimum standard of evidence required to investigate a complaint;
- Create a mediation program (for police and civilians); and
- Require a detailed response from the police chief explaining his or her decision to accept or reject board recommendations.
“I’m glad that they’re finally pushing this,” Nelini Stamp, co-director of Rise Up Georgia.
“I would love to see them include some of the recommendations we made to them. We asked them to at least research a mental health response unit in Atlanta,” Stamp said.
“We asked them to consider young people joining the board. There were no LGBTQ-identified members, no Latino identified members, so we were concerned about that. We would like to see it be more reflective of the population of folks who are having interactions with the police,” Stamp said.
The legislation was referred to the Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee, which is expected to discuss it when it next meets on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 at 3pm.
CITY OF COVINGTON GETS CRB
The day after Young introduced the ACRB reform legislation, the Covington City Council made significant progress toward establishing its own Citizen Review Board (CRB), which would be only the second to exist in Georgia.
At a work session on February 16, 2016, council members voted to establish an exploratory committee to determine how a CRB would function.
“We have a momentum going in that direction. We have a consensus to a certain extent,” said Covington City Councilman Kenneth Morgan (Post 1 West), who spearheaded the effort.
There has been some push back from the Covington Police Department, but Morgan says the plan is in the best interests of law enforcement because it can strengthen trust between officers and the community.
“Anything we are doing is not personal toward the police department, it’s for the benefit of everyone,” he said.
Morgan was elected to the Council in November 2015 after running on a platform that included establishing a CRB.
His position was informed, in part, by his own experience of being treated unfairly by police in an incident that occurred while he was employed by the City of Covington.
But Morgan emphasized that it is not just a personal issue for him: what he experienced is just one example of a larger problem.
That’s validated by the fact that he wasn’t the only candidate running on the CRB issue.
Newly-elected Councilman Josh McKelvey (Post 3 East) also made the CRB a focal point in his campaign. At the time neither candidate was aware of the other’s position.
In March, Council Members will nominate people to the exploratory committee. Morgan said he intends to look to the ACRB for guidance.
Reid, the Atlanta CRB director, tells APN he is interested in helping the Covington CRB get off the ground.
“It’s good that police oversight is gaining some traction in Georgia. All who are interested in it need to come together so we can talk about how to strengthen these organizations,” Reid said.
Citizens in Cobb and DeKalb counties have also tried to gain support for CRBs. In DeKalb County, another effort has stalled for now.
Barbara Burnham, a member of Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment (ABLE), told APN that ABLE met with DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May.
“He didn’t seem to be very open to the idea,” she said.
Efforts in Cobb County are reportedly faring better. That push has the support of Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who was tailed by an undercover police officer in what was likely an act of racial profiling last year.