Columbus City Council and citizens debate police reform

Columbus City Council and citizens debate police reform

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - It was a big topic for several hours at Tuesday night’s Columbus City Council meeting: holding law enforcement accountable.

At the heart of it is a proposed ordinance that would give the Public Safety Advisory Commission subpoena and review powers of certain investigations of the Columbus Police Department.

Councilor Jerry “Pops” Barnes wants to give the Public Safety Advisory Commission subpoena powers and the ability to review the Columbus Police Department’s deadly use of force in closed investigations. Mayor Pro-Tem Gary Allen proposed ordinance is a bit broader and would give the commission review powers of any closed use of force investigations, but not subpoena powers.

The Public Safety Advisory Commission is made up of 10 members appointed by Columbus City Council and one appointed by the mayor. Their mission is to recommend public safety and policies to public safety officials for a safe community.

After recent incidents of police brutality, Barnes said the Public Safety Advisory Commission has no power. He proposed an ordinance would change that.

“This will give them subpoena power because think about it, we are council and if we can’t get the truth about what is going on, what about the citizens? And that really hurt me that we were not told the truth,” Barnes said.

Lt. Lance Deaton with the Columbus Police Department strongly opposes giving the committee subpoena powers.

“I think people don’t understand what the processes are when it comes to dealing with uses of force within our police department, what our current policies and procedures are,” Deaton said. “They’re not informed enough and it shows because the thing they’re asking for, if you read the resolutions, if you read the ordinances that they’re trying to push through, the majority of that stuff we already do.”

Rep. Carolyn Hugley spoke in support of Barnes’ ordinance on behalf of the Sisters United for Reform.

“It is our public statement of what our community values should be as it relates to policing,” she said.

Allen’s ordinance would allow the commission to review investigations, but no subpoena powers.

Alton Russell said he doesn’t think any appointed board or committee should have subpoena powers that takes the place of elected officials.

“The council has subpoena powers. The council is in charge and responsible for the police department and the police chief. That’s who they elected. That’s where that power is, with the council. And I just don’t think they ought give up to any appointed board.” Russell said.

Council did amend both ordinances to specify the review powers would be for closed investigations. Council will pickup on this discussion as if it were another first reading of the ordinances at their next meeting.

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