Powers of Atlanta Citizen Review Board expanded

Board reviews citizen complaints against Atlanta police and corrections officers

The story so far

Earlier: Atlanta’s Citizen Review Board had limits on what complaints it could investigate concerning police and corrections officials.

The latest: City Council voted to expanded the board’s authority.

What’s next: If the mayor signs the bill, the board will be able to investigate allegations of discrimination, abuse of authority, discourteous behavior and other complaints.

The Atlanta City Council on Monday handed the city’s Citizen Review Board a grab-bag of new tools to investigate citizen complaints against police and corrections officers.

One of the biggest changes expands the board’s authority in types of cases it can review — the board can now investigate and make disciplinary recommendations on allegations of discrimination, discriminatory references, abuse of authority, discourteous behavior and failing to provide identification.

Previously, the board only had authority in alleged cases of false arrest, false imprisonment, harassment, excessive force and abusive language.

Citizens also can make anonymous complaints to the board for the first time, under the revised ordinance.

Councilman Ivory Lee Young, Jr., who sponsored revisions to the ordinance, said the expansion is an important protection.

“Misconduct is misconduct, and the ordinance should be drafted as broadly as possible,” Young said. “The Citizen Review Board seeks justice — not just for victims but for those accused.”

The review board was created in 2008, in the wake of Atlanta police officers shooting to death a 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during a botched 2006 drug raid, then planting drugs in her home.

Lee Reid, executive director of the city-funded board, said two other important changes require police officials to give more detailed explanations when they do not go along with the boards’ recommendations; and allows for mediation between a citizen and police officer as part of the complaint process.

While the board has access to investigators, subpoena power and a mandate to provide a credible, independent and “safe and welcoming place” to bring complaints, the police department upheld only 11 percent of the 34 cases in which the review board recommended that the officer be disciplined.

“We need to understand that,” Reid said. “If there is a problem with our process, we want to improve it. But we’ve got to set the standard for what is acceptable in policing.”

The revised ordinance now goes to Mayor Kasim Reed for his signature. It appears the mayor will sign the changes sincemanagers from the police and corrections departments at the committee meeting last week and had only minor concerns that were dealt with.

Reid, the executive director of the board, said all the new categories of complaints are covered by police policies. Board members now must fulfill mandatory training on police policies and procedures.

Other changes include adding two board members, from the Atlanta Urban League and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda. A request to have the board member from the American Civil Liberties Union was rejected for fear that it would politicize the board.

The board's existence hasn't been a smooth ride. In 2012, it was plagued by in-fighting, turnover of leadership, resignations of board members, resistance from police, and a damaged public image. Reid said he believes the board is functioning much better now.