Proposal would expand powers of Atlanta police review board

The most sweeping expansion of power in the eight-year history of the Atlanta Citizen Review Board appears headed for a vote of the city council.

The review board was created in 2008, after Atlanta police officers shot a 92-year-old woman during a 2006 drug raid, then planted drugs in her home.

The board investigates citizen complaints against Atlanta police and corrections officers. Representatives from police and corrections expressed no major concerns with the expansion Thursday.

Proposed changes to the city’s ordinance would significantly expand the board’s reach and purview, by allowing it to investigate more types of complaints — including allegations of abuse of authority; discrimination and discriminatory conduct; inappropriate conduct; harassment; failure to provide identification; and officers not taking appropriate action.

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, it only has the authority to investigate allegations of false arrest, false imprisonment, excessive force and abusive language.

All of the new categories of complaints are areas of conduct covered by the police department’s procedures, said Lee Reid, executive director of the city-funded board. Reid said the expansion is important as the board turns away about 30 percent of the complaints it receives because it lacks the authority to investigate.

The board made recommendations on about 34 cases last year, Reid said.

“This is not a power grab,” Reid said. “These are changes intended to better protect citizens and the rights of officers. This will bring more issues to the board so we can have the best police department we can have. That’s the goal.”

Other proposed changes include allowing mediation, requiring police training for board members, requiring more detailed responses from chiefs on disciplinary decisions in cases heard by the board, imposing term limits on board members, and providing a method for filling prolonged vacancies, which is an issue that has plagued the board.

Reid made a presentation to several council members Thursday, during a work session of the council’s Public Safety Committee.

Atlanta Police Major B.K. Martin, from the department’s Office of Professional Standards, brought up only one concern — that the department has to complete citizen complaint cases in 180 days, and mediated cases before the board could take longer.

Corrections Chief Patrick Labat said he would like board members to have training in corrections policy and procedure. Labat also said accused officers should be allowed to bring counsel into hearings.

Councilman Ivory Lee Young, Jr., who is sponsoring the proposed changes, said the legislation will be considered by the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

“I’m very hopeful” it will pass, he said. “I don’t see any reason we wouldn’t move forward with this.”

Councilman C.T. Martin also said he thought the changes were ready to go to the full council, which would happen March 21 if they are passed out of committee.

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.

The board is supposed to have 11 members — appointed by the mayor, council, council president, Gate City Bar Association, Atlanta Bar Association, League of Women Voters, Atlanta Business League and four Neighborhood Planning Units. However, there are currently two vacancies, including the mayoral appointment.

One additional change being proposed would add two board members, from the Atlanta Urban League and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.

Reid said the board has been working with the departments and citizen groups for nearly two years on the changes.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.