Criminal Justice

That Didn't Take Long

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One of the reforms the city of Atlanta implemented in the wake of the 2006 botched drug raid in which narcotics officers shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was to set up a Citizen Review Board to look into allegations of police misconduct. Unlike other review boards across the country, the new law actually gave the one in Atlanta some teeth. The Board has immediate access to all police documents related to the cases it investigates, regardless of what internal police department investigations may be going on at the time.

Civilian review boards with enforcement and subpoena power are a good idea in general, but it was particularly important in Atlanta, where the federal investigation sparked by Johnston's death revealed corruption, civil rights violations, and cover-ups so pervasive, the city eventually fired or reassigned its entire narcotics division.

But just two years after Johnston's death, and just weeks after the last police officer involved in the case plead guilty on federal civil rights charges, Atlanta's police department is already trying to neuter the Citizen Review Board:

The Atlanta Police Department, with the help of the city's Law Department, introduced legislation Tuesday to amend city law regarding how the Citizen Review Board investigates complaints about Atlanta's law enforcement officers.

The proposed change comes just as the review board has begun its work. Created in the wake of an illegal police shooting that left an elderly woman dead, the board was intended to restore the public's trust in the police department.

The city law recently enacted to create the review board gives the board "full access" to police reports and documents. Police officials are asking the city to allow them to only turn over documents and information that are public record, which is minimal when an investigation is ongoing.

If the change is approved, it would essentially allow the police department to withhold most information from the Citizen Review Board until after the department conducts its own investigation.

NEXT: For the Record, I Am Not Now or Have I Ever Been Rod Blagojevich

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  1. If the change is approved, it would essentially allow the police department to withhold most information from the Citizen Review Board until after the department conducts its own investigation coordinates it’s perjury.

    Sorry to be such a cynic, but those cops would never have gotten busted if their snitch had gone along with the story they concocted after murdering an innocent old woman in her home.

  2. Here’s an idea: stop referring to people who aren’t police as “civilians”. Maybe a good step toward keeping police from acting like members of an occupying military force is to stop using military terms when referring to civil servants. Citizen review board seems to imply that police are something other than citizens.

  3. Let me pre-empt Lefiti here — Radley just because one police department appears to abuse powers and be corrupt doesn’t mean they all are! You’re cherry picking data again blah blah blah Libertarians blah blah blah.

  4. No, they need this. They’re here to protect us, do you want to endanger the children?

  5. Here’s an idea: stop referring to people who aren’t police as “civilians”.

    Yes.

  6. Radley,
    Don’t mean to rain on your glimmer of hope, but I could give a shit less about the CITY of Atlanta.
    It is Joe Sixpack and/or Hoi Q. Polloi you’ve gotta get thru to.
    But you ARE getting thru.
    Just be patient. Keep tending the flame with us here.

    How ’bout this for a bumper sticker?
    SWAT SWAT

    Ruthless

  7. Here’s an idea: stop referring to people who aren’t police as “civilians”.

    No shit. This is a pet peeve of mine. When it comes to cops, we are “citizens”, just like them. If they want to be all manly and refer to us as “civilians”, they can fucking join the Marines.

  8. RC,
    old Marine speaking here…
    The only thing governments can do a half-ass job of is wage wars. (Everything else has a larger denominator.)
    Greater collateral damage is caused by the theoretically “non-violent” wars such as the war on drugs; war on poverty; car czar, and such-like.
    Everyone needs to recognize governments’ reflex to apply collective force to resolve every “issue.”
    Force is not good.

  9. Civilian review boards should exist in every city. Civilians should be gotten from jury pool lists and hear police misconduct cases.

  10. I’ve always wondered what the ostensible (as opposed to J sub D’s too-true explanation) rationale is for withholding information during investigations. Are they afraid of contaminating a potential jury if something prosecutable is discovered?

  11. Who’d have thought people in power want to keep it and not want it undermined.

  12. I’ve always wondered what the ostensible…rationale is for withholding information during investigations.

    In normal criminal matters, it’s to prevent leaks that would allow the target to subvert the investigation. It doesn’t really make sense in cases like this.

  13. If the police don’t do anything wrong, then they’ve got nothing to hide.

  14. Joshua Holmes | December 14, 2008, 1:48am | #
    If the police don’t do anything wrong, then they’ve got nothing to hide.

    For the win!

  15. I think the civilian review board should petition the local judge for a writ of “STFU and take your medicine, you whining bunch of perps.”

    -jcr

  16. never have gotten busted if their snitch had gone along with the story

    I guess you just can’t find a good snitch these days.

    -jcr

  17. I agree. Joshua wins the thread.

    -jcr

  18. Dave T … I don’t agree

    The basic practice of the police is that they ARE NOT WRONG. The police throughout the country, Regardless of what Scalia believes, works in a manner that any reasonable person would consider unconstitutional and border-line corrupt.

    Take the Mayor who had both dogs shot during a marijuana raid…The cops clearing performed a ‘business-as-usual’ raid. Had the Mayor’s mother-in-law not been the Mayor’s mother-in-law…her claim that the Marijuana mailed to her house is ‘NOT hers…but a case of identity theft’ would have fallen on death ears.

  19. Alice, I agree, and I just want to say that Scalia’s point is even worse than it appears. Scalia pointed to the admitted (though for any good citizen far short of ideal) advances in police practices since and in large part BECAUSE of active judicial oversight of police practices as a REASON to not engage in active judicial oversight of police practices. It was truly a tour de force of dangerous stupidity. It’s like saying “only because and since we stopped trusting the police in the 1950’s they have gotten much better so we can trust them now.”

  20. “Take the Mayor who had both dogs shot during a marijuana raid”

    What I don’t get is where is the ASPCA on this? Clearly shooting two dogs and then letting them bleed-out was a case of cruelty to animals.

  21. Funny stuff. My old town got in the habit of locking civilian overview types out of the building in violation of local laws.

    Could do that and not bother formally changing anything.

  22. MNG-

    The citizen/civilian boards should also have the power to arrest cops for failing to cooperate. In addition, the powers of these boards need to be expanded to permit any person to be a member of such boards with the authority to pull cops over as well as the authority to shoot to kill any cop who, on sight, is assaulting another person.

  23. libertymike
    I’m not sure I’d go that far. Without a full review with due process we don’t know whats going on in that police-citizen violence. It could be legit. This is why the common law eventually took the right of self defense from an illegal arrest away from citizens, the citizens may not be good at figuring out which arrests were legal or not, best to sort this out later. Of course there should be harsh criminal, civil or administrative remedies for false arrest and excessive use of force, but I actually think after the fact reviews will do the trick and lead to less tragedy overall.

  24. Sadly, I dont think anyone cares anymore.

    jess
    http://www.online-privacy.se.tc

  25. But I hope we can agree on this: having the cops police themselves as the only remedy ain’t cutting it and won’t.

  26. Of course they are. The Stupid Cops dont want to relinquish too much of their power. Corruption is bliss in 90% of Police Departments in the Country now!

    jess
    http://www.online-privacy.se.tc

  27. The citizen/civilian boards should also have the power to arrest cops for failing to cooperate. In addition, the powers of these boards need to be expanded to permit any person to be a member of such boards with the authority to pull cops over as well as the authority to shoot to kill any cop who, on sight, is assaulting another person.

    And we will call the members of these civilian boards “Watchmen”, and give them funny costumes and names.

    But then, who watches the watchmen?

  28. But then, who watches the watchmen?

    I dunno, the coast guard?

  29. “The Atlanta Police Department, with the help of the city’s Law Department, introduced legislation Tuesday to amend city law”

    Thank goodness that I only live NEAR Atlanta, and not IN Atlanta. Where I live, we have legislators that we (may) have voted for that introduce legislation, rather than having the police here introduce their own legislation.

    CB

  30. But then, who watches the watchmen?

    I don’t know, but that movie is going to suck.

  31. I don’t know, but that movie is going to suck.

    Although I know previews can be deceiving, it seems like they got the tone right, and from interviews and the preview it seems like the plot remains intact and mostly unmolested.

    And Alan Moore is a whiny bitch who overestimates by several orders of magnitude the amount of nuance that a comic can incorporate that a film cannot.

  32. I just read that Alan Moore has what, two wives and worships a Roman snake God. Good comics, but wtf?

  33. I just read that Alan Moore has what, two wives and worships a Roman snake God. Good comics, but wtf?

    Come on, admit it. If you could pull it off, you would totally do that too.

  34. How about “external” or “independent” police review board?

  35. MNG: It’s Alan Moore. The only adaptation of anything of his he liked was in a Justice League episode (For the Man Who Has Everything).

    Personally, I’ll go on record as saying that I liked From Hell.

    And click on the name for the true story of Alan Moore.

    Nephilium

  36. Kolohe you must not be married. I love my wife but beleive me, one is enough.

  37. I thought Kolohe was talking about the snake worshipping stuff.

  38. Who’d have thought people in power want to keep it and not want it undermined.

    Not to mention high-ranking cops who’ve been treating the city like their own private cookie jar for their whole careers, and no doubt leaving eight-lane paper trails behind them. Watching other cops duck and weave to avoid prison must be an eye-opening and scary experience for some long-timers in the PD. It’s no big surprise they want to pull some new review board’s teeth, but a big tragedy that they’ll probably do so easily.

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