Dear Mayor Girtz and commissioners,
We the undersigned strongly encourage you to support the recommendations of the Athens-Clarke County Community Police Advisory Board Development Task Force. A civilian oversight board will improve police accountability. It will also strengthen community-police relations through the creation of an independent and diverse body of Athens residents to review the work of local law enforcement.
Existing research provides compelling evidence that independent civilian oversight makes for safer and more equitable policing. Importantly, the task force’s proposed auditor/monitor model will promote systemic change by granting the civilian oversight board-wide authority to monitor, audit, investigate and review law enforcement policies and practices. Furthermore, it is important that this model of oversight board is exclusive of active or retired law enforcement officers. This ensures that the board can act honestly and independently, without fear of retaliation from law enforcement.
Independent oversight is all the more important in the aftermath of the tear-gassing of peaceful protesters in Athens on May 31, 2020, the militarized policing of a peaceful rally on June 6, 2020 and the recent justification of these violent actions by Chief Cleveland Spruill. Such violent police responses are unnecessary and unjustified and result in physical and mental trauma to peaceful citizens exercising their constitutional rights.
The Feb. 18, 2021 fatal shooting by a police officer of another Athens community member shows the necessity of a civilian oversight board to review such incidents. Police-involved shootings are not simply an issue in larger cities, but rather one that affects our Athens community, and have significantly increased in recent years. In 2018, there were zero police-involved shootings in Athens-Clarke County; this figure rose to six in 2019.
Improving police accountability is a racial justice issue. Violent encounters with police officers vary significantly by race in the U.S., and Athens is no exception. The creation of a civilian oversight board composed of citizens who live and work in Athens is one step in the larger process of making our political institutions accountable to all citizens.
We call on our local government to support the recommendations of the Community Police Advisory Board Development Task Force as an important and necessary step in strengthening police accountability and building community trust in our law enforcement agencies.
The United Campus Workers of Georgia-UGA Chapter
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