For over a year, Athens Anti Discrimination Movement (AADM), Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition (AIRC), Athens for Everyone (A4E), and the Racial Justice Task Force (RJTF) at Oconee United Methodist Church have been partnering to advocate for a Community Police Review Board (CPRB). Boards like these have varied designs, but the ultimate goal is to establish a mechanism for community oversight of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department by empowering community review of police actions.
After circulating petitions, speaking at Mayor & Commission meetings, hosting public forums, and meeting with Mayor Girtz, our organizations are pleased to see that the Athens-Clarke County Government is responding. On February 11 and 12, Mayor Girtz convened the first meeting of a task force comprised of community members:
- Jaivious Collins, recent high school graduate
- Mokah Jasmine Johnson, Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement
- Fabian Jones, Hilsman Middle School Assistant Principal
- Beto Mendoza, Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition
- Joan Prittie, Project Safe Director
- Mykeisha Ross, Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement
- Dr. Sarah Shannon, University of Georgia Department of Sociology
- Shane Sims, People Living in Recovery
- Phil Smith, Concord Coalition Director
- Nikema Stovall, Athens Land Trust
The conversation was facilitated by National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), a group we’d recommended because of their experience guiding communities across the country through the process of establishing oversight committees.
In July 2019, when we learned that the process of creating a CPRB was moving forward without public input and through private meetings with concerned community members and organizations, we were troubled. We recommended to Mayor Girtz that he establish a Task Force of community members whose role it would be to explore options for CPRB approaches, facilitate a public input process, and recommend a design that meets the needs of this local community. This way, we argued, the public and those communities most impacted by police violence would be engaged in the process of creating the Community Police Review Board, because we know these efforts often fail if the community isn’t involved in their design.
The collaborative efforts to call for a police review board stemmed from the officer-involved assault against Timmy Patmon in October 2018. And now, with six officer-involved shootings in Athens-Clarke County in 2019, we are reminded again of why an oversight board is so important. When civilians die or are seriously injured by officers, the community has the right to (a) understand the circumstances that lead to these incidents, (b) educate themselves on how future incidents could be prevented, and (c) independently determine if excessive force was used, to hold officers and police departments accountable. These boards should be considered welcome additions by police departments that are serious about building trust in their community.
As this process moves forward, we would like to reiterate what we would like to see in a Community Police Review Board, based on extensive research we’ve done on boards across the country. Our organizations’ main priorities are that a CPRB be:
Made up of community members–not police officers–who represent vulnerable and disproportionately affected populations;
Given subpoena powers, access to relevant police data, and other investigatory powers to ensure thorough and independent investigations;
Granted an adequate, long-term budget to ensure that investigations can be completed in a timely manner;
Designed with a process in place for regular activities as well as the ability to respond quickly to incidents and complaints when they occur;
Fully open and transparent with regard to public investigation results, recommendations, and police response.
Our organizations are committed to advocating for an open and transparent process in developing a CPRB so that the entire community, especially those most impacted by policing and police violence, have an opportunity to shape what an Athens CPRB looks like. We are excited that the Task Force has been established and hope that it will move forward by holding a series of public meetings and online comment periods to develop a CPRB proposal and amend it based on community input, prior to finalizing the Community Police Review Board.
We ask that community members attend the AADM Know Your Rights and Criminal Justice Reform forum February 25th, 6pm, Athens Clarke County Library to learn more about the future of Athens criminal justice system. Contact athensantidiscrimination@