By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapersThe Atlanta City Council created a civilian oversight panel to review complaints against city police and corrections officers at its March 5 meeting.
The council vote was unanimous and the legislation now goes to the mayor for her approval or veto.
The legislation, authored by At-Large Councilman H. Lamar Willis, calls for 11 people to be appointed by city officials and independent groups to investigate complaints about misconduct, from use of abusive language to use of excessive force resulting in death.
The oversight panel would have subpoena power and would issue a public report at least once a year.
The 14-0 council vote settled a debate that focused partially on who would get to name the panel members. Under the adopted plan, the mayor, City Council and council president each get one appointment. Neighborhood Planning Units get four. Atlanta lawyers get two—one through the historically black Gate City Bar Association and another through the Atlanta Bar Association. The League of Women Voters and the Atlanta Business League each name one member.
City Council members C.T. Martin and Ivory Young Jr. co-sponsored the legislation with Willis after Atlanta narcotics officers shot and killed Kathryn Johnston during an alleged drug bust three months ago, aroused community outrage.
It is not clear at this point whether Mayor Shirley Franklin will sign the legislation passed by council or possibly veto it in favor of another alternative.
The city’s law department had warned that the panel could face a legal challenge by officers, a sentiment that was echoed by Sgt. Scott Kreher, president of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.
Kreher said one concern is that the new law could violate police officers rights to due process by compelling them to testify in an open setting while an independent internal investigation is ongoing.
Willis indicated such concerns would be dealt with after the panel is named and standard operating procedures are drafted.