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.