|Cops have due process rights too|
|Written by Mark Nichols|
In Atlanta, Georgia, police officers are refusing to answer questions from the fledgling Citizen Review Board shutting down any efforts to investigate the public's complaints involving encounters with law enforcement, officials said. According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Rhonda Cook, Chief Richard Pennington said in an e-mailed statement that the department is "currently developing a standard operating procedure that will define procedures between the Atlanta Citizen's Review Board and Atlanta Police personnel."
Pennington did not respond to questions from reporters regarding whether or not officers could be disciplined if they refuse to answer the board's questions. The Internation Brotherhood of Police Officers has said its lawyers would continue advising members to decline to answer the board's questions. The union contends their answers to the board could be used to bring criminal charges.
"We still strongly believe they [the Citizen Review Board] shouldn't be doing these investigations," Sgt. Scott Kreher, president local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers told the Constitution's Rhonda Cook. Kreher said that there are plenty of other groups that can handle citizen complaints, from the internal affairs bureau and outside agencies like the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, the FBI, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Needless to say the civilian review board is up in arms.
They say voters empowered them to investigate allegations against Atlanta officers and that they need more authority to do it. "The people of Atlanta, through their elected representatives, have required that an oversight board be established so that citizens can review the investigations that are conducted into these types of allegations," Cristina Beamud, executive director for the board told the Constitution in a recent interview.
But even if Atlanta cops were answering questions from the civilian review board, they have no authority to mete out any punishment or discipline. The Atlanta PD can pursue criminal and administrative investigations of its officers, while other law enforcement agencies would investigate them only for alleged criminal acts as opposed to complaints from citizens. Atlanta City Council member H. Lamar Willis, who sponsored the ordinance that created the review board, said he thinks officers will continue to defy the board as long as there is no order to cooperate with the investigatory body from the chief.
"You have to have a department, i.e. a police chief, that requires that the officers participate in this process," Willis told reporters. "If the chief and the department insist that these officers cooperate, they will cooperate. I think that's where there is a rift." Pennington has been against the idea of a civilian review board since the idea was first floated several years ago.
"The very things they [the board] need to get their jobs done, they [APD] are not letting them have access to," Willis said. But the IBPO's Kreher said the board cannot assure officers their "Garrity rights," provided in a federal court decision that prohibits the use of "coerced statements obtained under the threat of job loss" to bring felony charges.