A team led by Mokah Jasmine Johnson, co-founder of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement (AADM), has released their recommendations for a new citizen’s board to oversee the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
Johnson’s Police Advisory Board Development Task Force was created in February by Mayor Kelly Girtz and tasked with making recommendations for the creation of a civilian board to oversee law enforcement. Advocacy groups like AADM have been calling for civilian oversight for years, but the idea became even more popular after an unusual number of officer-involved shootings in Athens in 2019 and the tear-gassing of peaceful protesters in 2020.
What is a Civilian Oversight Board?
A civilian oversight board is an officially-recognized group of residents providing oversight and accountability for local law enforcement.
There are different kinds of civilian oversight boards. Some are complaint-driven, reviewing potentially inappropriate police behavior after it occurs. These boards are typically run by volunteers. Another type of oversight involves hiring a new local government employee who would act as a monitor or auditor (see this note about nomenclature below) of the police department. The monitor would oversee police activity on a daily basis and would be personally involved in internal police investigations as they occur.
After months of debate, Johnson’s team has settled on a mix of the two approaches in the current draft of their recommendations. They are recommending an all-volunteer oversight board in addition to a new monitor position which would be created by amending the ACC Charter. Creating a new chartered position would put the monitor at the top of the local government hierarchy along with the ACC Manager and other chartered positions like Sheriff.
However, it’s possible there isn’t enough political will on the commission to actually amend the charter. In this case, the new monitor would report to the manager as do most other ACC employees.
However, Liana Perez, Director of Operations of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, who assisted the task force in developing their recommendations, worries that such a reporting structure would introduce unwelcome conflicts of interest. If the auditor must end up reporting to the ACC Manager, she suggests a “circular form of accountability” in which the monitor or the board would be free to bring issues directly to the mayor and commission, bypassing the manager in some cases.
Johnson’s team suggests that the civilian oversight board itself be composed of 11 members and two alternates who “closely mirror the diversity and demographics of the community.” Law enforcement officers and their families would be excluded from serving.
Their authority would include reviewing allegations of police misconduct, making policy recommendations to ACCPD, making law enforcement-related budget recommendations to the mayor and commission, evaluating the effectiveness of the person serving as monitor and participating in a yearly review of the police chief as well.
Board members would receive a minimum of 20 hours of training a year on various topics, such as use-of-force policies. They would serve for two-year terms.
Public input and next steps
You can review the draft recommendations of the task force yourself here. They are looking for public feedback on these recommendations until January 3. So check them out and let the task force know your thoughts here.
After making changes based on public comment, the recommendations will be brought to the mayor and commission for possible consideration as soon as the voting session on February 2.
Note about the name of the “monitor” position: In the report of the task force’s recommendations, this position is usually referred to as an “auditor.” However, using this name may cause confusion with the position of ACC Internal Auditor, which is currently held by Stephanie Maddox. This is the reason why the term “monitor” is used in this article instead.