The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement held a town hall meeting to discuss plans for civilian oversight of the ACC police department currently being considered in the ACC Commission’s Government Operations Committee.
A civilian oversight board is an officially-recognized group of residents providing oversight and accountability for local law enforcement. Mayor Kelly Girtz appointed a task force to help guide the creation of such a board in 2019.
Task force members defend their recommendations
Mokah Jasmine Johnson and Shane Sims, co-chairs of Girtz’s Police Advisory Board Development Task Force, were both present at yesterday’s town hall meeting. They described why they recommended the creation of an oversight board and included some details about those recommendations, which you can read here. Johnson said an oversight board would make it easier for people to express their concerns about the police department, foster trust of police, increase public understanding of police procedure and help hold “bad apples” in ACCPD accountable.
Sims agreed with Johnson, saying that “the work that [the task force] did wasn’t just a bunch of emotionalism. It was guided by principles with the assistance of NACOLE (The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement). I don’t think anyone in this room can deny the fact that the relationship between the community and the police department is something that can stand work.”
Other panelists included ACCPD Deputy Chief Harrison Daniel, ACC Commissioner Tim Denson and Lee Reid, the Executive Director of the Atlanta Civilian Review Board.
Police express concern about oversight board
The town hall was amiably moderated by Chaplain Cole Knapper and participants were generally relaxed throughout. However, panelists did seem to feel a bit of tension when Daniel tried to explain why Police Chief Cleveland Spruill opposed the task force’s recommendations. While trying to focus on points of agreement between ACCPD and the task force, Daniel explained Spruill’s feeling that “some adversarial undertones” had taken hold of the group. According to Daniel, the task force at one point even told Spruill not to return to their meetings.
Daniel said that ACCPD objected to some of the policy proposals recommended by the task force as well. For example, allowing the oversight board to address budgetary or “defunding-type issues” as well as personnel or discipline matters was a “fatal flaw” in Daniel’s words. After he said this, Johnson pushed back, making sure the audience understood that the oversight board would not have direct control over budgeting or discipline.
“There is no civilian oversight that can take away funds from the police department. That was a myth and that myth continues to circulate,” Johnson said with frustration evident in her voice. “This is not a political game. People’s lives are at risk. Let’s stop playing games.”
Daniel later clarified his comments, saying he understood the oversight board would not have direct control over these issues. However, he felt that even a non-binding recommendation to reduce funding could have a negative impact on his agency.
Towards the end of the meeting, some audience members expressed concern about the budget of the oversight board and how that would be paid. One woman asked if the board would be paid for travel expenses and if they would receive a stipend. She also asked to see an overview of the board’s complete budget.
Johnson replied that it wasn’t uncommon for members of similar boards to receive a stipend, although the commission hadn’t yet decided this particular detail. Denson agreed, saying that the ACC Finance Department hasn’t yet drafted an overview of the board’s budget.
Another audience member asked about Johnson’s personal opinion about defunding the police, seeming to reference a Republican attack ad against her when she ran for state house district 117 against Houston Gaines. The ad played an audio clip of Johnson perhaps indicating some support for the idea of reducing police funding.
Johnson denied the allegations, saying, “That’s a myth. I do not want to continue to respond to a myth.”
Johnson and Sims presented the task force’s recommendations for a civilian review board to the Government Operations Committee back in February. The committee has discussed the recommendations since then but the idea has not yet been finalized. Denson, a member of this committee, said that he has a few minor issues with the recommendations but that he’s “ready to go” and wants to present the idea to the full ACC Commission for a vote as soon as possible.
Unfortunately for supporters of the plan, the chair of the Government Operations Committee, Commissioner Mike Hamby, cancelled this month’s meeting. That means committee approval will be pushed back by at least a month, making August the earliest it could be sent to the full commission for consideration. Because of the cancellation, Denson said he hopes to have two committee meetings in August. That would provide time for the civilian review board to get on the commission’s agenda to potentially have a vote in September.
“I’m frustrated. The committee already only meets once a month for an hour,” Denson said.
If Hamby sticks to the committee’s typical schedule, the idea would be passed through committee in late August, if it’s even approved at all. In this case, the earliest the commission would vote on the proposal would be the first week of October.
Any further unforeseen delays, given the slow and deliberate nature of commission processes, could easily push the full commission vote on Johnson’s proposal back to early 2022. At this point, it would overlap with the May 2022 local election cycle, potentially causing additional complications. Therefore, supporters of this plan would be wise to strike while the iron is hot; conversely, those who oppose the plan will perhaps find procedural hurdles to be their greatest allies.