Police department under fire
City Council creates review board; union leader criticizes Pennington for pushing numbers
City Council sharply bucked Mayor Shirley Franklin on Monday when it unanimously voted to create an independent board to review allegations of police misconduct. The board will have subpoena powers and be comprised of individuals appointed by the council, politicians and citizens.
Franklin had asked the council to table the proposal and embrace a review board appointed by the mayor. "We're doing the work of the people," said Councilman Ivory Lee Young, a co-sponsor of the ordinance. "We want to make sure to do this right."
The vote comes at a time when the Atlanta Police Department is under growing fire. Young introduced legislation Monday to repeal a controversial law that accounts for the largest number of arrests made by the department. The offense, nicknamed "DC-6," is so broad that police can almost use it at will, critics say.
Young's legislation comes almost two months after CL showed that the DC-6 charge accounted for 7,551 arrests as of Dec. 18 – an average of 22 charges a day. The crime outpaced criminal trespass at 5,407 and drinking in public at 4,621. What's more, Young says about 3,500 of those cases were dismissed.
"The statistics clearly indicate arrests occur ... with inadequate evidence," Young says.
The DC-6 ordinance makes it unlawful for any person to, "be in or about any place where gaming or the illegal sale or possession of alcoholic beverages or narcotics or dangerous drugs is practiced, allowed or tolerated[.]"
Sgt. Scott Kreher, president of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, says the law is overused and has become a way for the police department to hit record arrest numbers despite being undermanned. The repeal of the law, Kreher says, could cause ugly numbers to surface by the end of the year.
"[DC-6] is being abused in order to satisfy arrest numbers," Kreher says. "As far as affecting arrest numbers, [the repeal of DC-6] would be huge."
Ever since police Chief Richard Pennington's arrival, the chief and the city have touted a drop in crime. But much of the crime ebb, Kreher contends, coincided with the Atlanta Housing Authority's decision to demolish several public housing projects in crime-ridden areas. "It made [Pennington] look like he was making huge decreases in crime," Kreher says. "In actuality we were displacing crime pockets."
What's more, several police officers have told CL that Pennington has placed an alleged quota system on officers. Though it's not on the books, insiders say officers must churn out arrests and warrants in order to receive outstanding performance reviews. For example, several police officers have said the squad involved in the police killing of the elderly woman in November had a quota to serve 28 warrants a month.
The push for numbers, Kreher says, has led to the rampant use of DC-6 charges. "If you can show you arrested six people at an address instead of one person, that drives the numbers game for Chief Pennington," Kreher says.
Pennington, who made a rare public appearance at the press conference with Young to announce the legislation, acknowledged that the majority of DC-6 charges often occur in minority communities and called the law "somewhat biased."
When asked if he is in favor of the repeal, Pennington responded, "We're not opposed to it." And he was quick to say the repeal of DC-6 wouldn't affect the work of the police department.
"If this law is repealed I don't see any problems with us intending to enforce the current laws in the city of Atlanta," he says. "Regardless of what happens ... we'll do what we have to to keep our communities safe."