Cobb safety director: no oversight committee needed

Cobb’s Director of Public Safety Sam Heaton says the county police department does not need a Citizen Oversight Committee, and that Commissioner Lisa Cupid’s allegations of mistreatment by police should be dealt with in a private mediation session.

Heaton's Aug. 14 memo, to county commissioners and County Manager David Hankerson, says he could find no evidence of wrongdoing after investigating the commissioner's complaint, which alleges that a police officer acted inappropriately in the early morning hours of July 14 when he aggressively followed her in an undercover police vehicle and left her shaken.

Cupid says she has been further victimized by county leadership, which has not been responsive to her complaint.

The commissioner, who represents southern portions of Cobb, suggested last week that that the county needs a Citizen Oversight Committee to review the department's policies and procedures and hear complaints against officers.

Heaton said in the memo that such a committee is unnecessary because the department is nationally accredited by an agency that reviews policies and procedures; it meets monthly with neighborhood and business groups; it already has a citizen complaint process in place along with a “robust” internal affairs division; and holds a citizen police academy.

“These are processes we have in place that work,” Heaton wrote in the memo. “They have been developed from the inside out, not because of a court-ordered mandate or federal oversight. Given the department’s already established credentials and relationships, I do not share in the belief that a Citizen’s Oversight Committee is necessary.”

Cupid, an African American who implied race may have played a role in how the department investigates crime in her district, said Monday that she will pursue the oversight committee on her own, if necessary.

“This is something that, whether or not there is support or funding, I will pursue through my office,” Cupid said in an interview. “At the very least, we need to be sitting down and speaking with citizens who have concerns, getting information to them through the public records process and bringing concerns to the department for those issues to be addressed.”

During a commission meeting last week, Cupid questioned how the officer could see her allegedly speeding away from a hotel that morning, but did not see her leisurely walk to her car and have a lengthy conversation with the hotel manager before she drove away. Cupid also said she was told the officer was unable to meet with her later to discuss the incident because he was off duty, but his time sheets show that he worked every day.

Heaton’s memo said his investigation of the incident “found no evidence that the officer was sleeping on the job, falsified his time reports, or had any intent to harass, intimidate or stalk the commissioner.” Cupid never accused the officer of sleeping while on duty.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained officer Maurice Lawson’s time sheet, which shows he was credited with 135 hours from July 5-19. The time sheet also shows the officer was on duty each of the five days after he followed Cupid. The department provided the officer’s name and time sheet in response to a request from Cupid’s office.

Heaton said in his memo that the public questioning has harmed the police department’s relationship with the public.

“For us to do what we do, it is essential that trust exists between us and the people we serve,” the memo says. “…Any loss of public trust in our personnel amounts to a threat to our officers and our community.”

Cupid said she is not opposed to private mediation, but that “private mediation will not advance the public discourse that is needed, nor the official actions needed to address what I believe is a wide-spread concern.”