atlanta police take a knee protesters demonstrations
Atlanta police officers knelt with demonstrators in honor of George Floyd, a gesture that communicated respect for those who had gathered and the reason they had come together. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

By David Pendered

“I refuse to be another hashtag.” The spirit of this message on a placard is driving efforts across the country to defund police departments or to reform police practices. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has set a June 18 deadline for recommendations to reform the city’s use-of-force policy, adopted in 2018.

hashtag, protests, police, reform
The spirit of the words on this placard is fueling a nationwide call to reform police practices, or to defund police departments and shift the money to social programs. Credit:

Minneapolis is facing the highest-profile call in a national movement to wind down police funding and shift the money to social programs. A veto-proof majority on the city council has agreed to abolish the city’s police department, according to a report Monday in

Jane Fonda is among those who have endorsed this approach. In a Facebook post, Fonda presents her view on an idea presented in 2017 by the MPD150 community organization, which leads the movement to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.

Atlanta is pursuing a reform approach to police practices.

Former President Obama recommended reform in his June 1 post on Obama also joined Bottoms in making a direct appeal for would-be change-makers to vote in elections for the local and state officials who establish and enforce police practices.

The Obama Foundation has created a landing page, Anguish and Action, that offers a wealth of information on how to, “create a more just and equitable world.” Links include one to a manual for changing police practices, which is based on the 2015 report by Obama’s presidential task force on police reform. Obama established the task force following the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. that grew from the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer there.

APD Chief Erika Shields, George Floyd, demonstrations, protests
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields went to the site of a demonstration in Downtown Atlanta over the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis. Shields spoke with demonstrators and reporters. Credit: Kelly Jordan

In Atlanta, Bottoms revised her budget proposal to reflect the decimated revenues expected as a result of COVID-19. The mayor’s proposed balanced budget of $673.4 million allocates 12 percent for the Atlanta Police Department. The budget is for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The proposed budget predicts a drop of $58 million from the current budget.

The first key outcome the mayor cited in her April 29 transmittal letter to the Atlanta City Council addressed funding for police:

  • “Keeps our commitment to raise pay for police officers and fire fighters….”

Atlanta’s current use-of-force policy is due for review in 2022, according to the document. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields signed the current policy Nov. 5, 2018. Bottoms has called for an expedited review and revision of the policy.

The policy sets the terms of engagement for officers’ interactions with the public.

The policy’s North Star is to use no more force than is “reasonable” to subdue a suspect. Two sections of Atlanta’s policy are of note in this era following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.

The definition of reasonable force concludes with this observation:

Atlanta police officers knelt with protesters in honor of George Floyd, whose death while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers spurred demonstrations around the world. Credit: Kelly Jordan
  • “The central inquiry in every use of force case is whether or not the amount of force applied was objectively reasonable in light of the particular circumstances perceived by the employee.”

Chokeholds are specifically forbidden, except as a last resort to avoid serious injury or death. The section states, in full:

  • “Employees will not use neck restraints, carotid artery holds, or other weaponless control techniques that are not taught or approved by the department due to the potential for serious injury or death; unless they are in an emergency situation or under exigent circumstances where it is immediately necessary to use force to prevent serious bodily injury or death and city-issued and/or authorized lethal or less lethal weapons are inoperable, inaccessible, or otherwise not available or effective.”

Bottoms wants the use-of-force policy revised with all possible speed.

The mayor has called for recommendations to be delivered by an advisory council within 14 days of her administrative order, dated June 4.

The adoption of recommendations will take additional time. Some recommendations could be implemented as operational changes; others may require action by the Atlanta City Council, according to a June 4 statement from Bottoms’ administration.

While the implementation process occurs, the advisory council is to keep working and deliver a “comprehensive report” on the city’s use-of-force policy within 45 days of the mayor’s administrative order.

Atlanta police officers sought to deescalate tensions with demonstrators by keeping their distance from a protest over the death of George Floyd. Officers remained close by to respond as necessary. Credit: Kelly Jordan

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written...

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