Atlanta mayor says police improvements made since Eagle raid

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Police Chief George Turner on Tuesday night told a crowded auditorium at St. Mark United Methodist Church that the city has improved its relationship with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The Midtown town hall meeting, however, alternated between cordial and contentious. The two officials fielded questions that largely revolved around whether the police department had improved its policies and professionalism since a botched raid of the Atlanta Eagle gay bar in September 2009.

That raid, which occurred months before Reed took office, has cost the city more than $1 million in settlements from plaintiffs who said they were harassed and subjected to excessive forc,e and anti-gay slurs.

Reed and Turner said they had clearly stated that police officers fired in the wake of the raid not be reinstated, though the city's Civil Service Board has final say over any reinstatement.

"The process around the civil review board has been in place for years," Reed said. "We're hopeful that the board will do the right thing. The city has made its position clear."

The town hall meeting, organized by the Atlanta Police Department's LGBT Advisory Board, drew a crowd of more than 150. One participant thanked Turner for the police department's recruitment drive at the latest Atlanta Pride Festival.

But there were also pointed questions about strip-searches, the recent arrests of Occupy Atlanta protesters in Woodruff Park and the city's liability if fired officers were reinstated.

"The city of Atlanta taxpayers often find themselves on the hook for bad decisions by our leaders," said one questioner, who asked who would pay for cases that have to be retried. "We can't have the taxpayers pick up the tab for the mess."

Reed responded that the disciplinary actions in the police department had been the most severe in a decade.

"With regard to strip searches, we're trying to change a culture" in the police department, Reed said. "We're trying to turn it around. We're implementing more steps."

Sedric Bogan of Midtown said there has been a rise in attacks and crime motivated by homophobia. Many of the victims don't want to identify themselves as gay, he said.

"There are attacks going on," Bogan said. "It is point-blank homophobia."

Reed said the city "dispatched a tremendous amount of resources" in responding to crimes against LGBT citizens. In Zone 6, which covers Inman Park, Candler Park, Virginia-Highland, Kirkwood and East Atlanta, crime was down 17 percent, he said.

"But statistics don’t matter if you're being held up by a gun," he acknowledged.

Reed and Turner said the city had increased its training for police officers, specifically in dealing with LGBT people.

"We’ve got to have a better trained police department, and that’s what we’re committed to," Turner said.

Laura Gentle, a member of the Queer Justice League, asked Reed, "Why the city of Atlanta has not addressed the deep-rooted homophobia that led to the raid in the first place?"

Reed said it was unfair to judge him for events that happened before he took office, yet he said he overruled the city's lawyers in reaching a $1 million settlement last year with a group of plaintiffs.

Asked why the city was fighting another group of plaintiffs in court, the mayor said, "I think it is reasonable for the city of Atlanta to hear their story before we cut a check."