Atlanta City Council on Monday unanimously voted to repeal the controversial "DC-6" law that gave police broad powers to arrest people for disorderly conduct.
According to Atlanta police records, officers cited DC-6 more than 7,500 times last year – more than any other nontraffic offense. Under the law, police were free to arrest anyone who happened to walk through an area labeled as a known drug zone. That was problematic because there were no official drug areas. Police used it as a catch-all charge.
The council vote came days after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would limit the use of no-knock warrants. The bill, introduced by Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, passed unanimously after it was amended to say police must have "probable cause" to obtain a no-knock warrant.
Both measures come in response to the November death of an elderly woman who was shot by police. The undercover officers entered her home with a no-knock warrant.
The council has approved a proposal to create an independent Citizens Review Board with subpoena power that would investigate allegations of police misconduct.
While these efforts have helped zero in on some of the problems that plague the police department, the question remains whether such legislation will improve police accountability – and let citizens regain trust in the department – or if the legislation is merely fixing the symptoms rather than the disease.
"The real challenge that is before us is to change the culture in the police department," says Councilman Ivory Lee Young, who sponsored the repeal. "They've gotten used to doing things a certain way."
One problem, which has hampered the department for years, is a manpower shortage. Critics say it leads to sloppy police work and pressure to constantly perform. The narcotics unit, for example, has fewer officers today than it did five years ago.
"We don't have enough people to do the job," says one ranking officer, who asked not to be named.
In 2004, the Atlanta Police Foundation spent more than $800,000 to finance an independent study of the police department. Known now as the "Linder report," it concluded the department needs 2,000 officers, for "effectiveness in reducing crime to sustainable low levels[.]"
The department has a budgeted strength of 1,783 officers. However, according to Atlanta Police spokesman Steve Coleman, there are about 1,600 sworn officers on the rolls.
What's more, the attrition rate detailed in the Linder report – on average, 111 officers leave the department each year – hasn't improved, the ranking officer says. The prime reason for that, police say, is because they haven't received promised pay raises.
"When I was hired, I understood that every year I'd get a pay increment," another officer says. "I've been with the department for six years and only gotten one."
And that, officers say, waters down the number of high-caliber recruits, spawns a steady attrition rate and leads to low morale. The report concluded that "low morale encourages disengagement" and "failure to recruit high caliber officers weakens force strength and effectiveness."
The police department already ranks near the bottom in terms of salary and benefits, according to the Linder report. Out of the 200 largest American cities, Atlanta is No. 156 in police pay.
While the problems with morale and attrition pre-date Chief Richard Pennington's arrival in 2002, little has been done by City Council or police officials to improve the situation, officers say.
Young agrees the council needs to stand up. "If we're going to keep [officers], we have to pony up," he says. "It's a real financial commitment that the council needs to be prepared to make."
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I wonder if they also payed Bubba McDonald for a lap dance and a 'happy…
Quick! Somebody get the Satanic Temple on the line:
I think Broch's point is pretty sound. It's not only acceptable, but BETTER when people…
@ Mark from Atlanta "And sit and wait for hours upon hours? Only after they…