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In the budget – $25k to address racial profiling


In the budget – $25k to address racial profiling

Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The city of Decatur is putting money in the budget to address concerns about racial profiling by police officers.

City Manager Peggy Merriss said the city is crafting several formal responses to recommendations the Decatur Community Coalition made at the City Commission’s April 21 meeting. The current budget proposal includes $25,000 in “placeholder” money for whatever response the city might come up with, Merriss said.

Merriss on June 2 updated City Commissioners about how the city will respond to the Coalition’s recommendations. Don Denard, a former Decatur School Board member who says he was racially profiled, spoke during public comments and asked for the update.

“I had not heard anything back from the city,” Denard said. “I had requested a formal response and I’m here to inquire about what has been going on.”

Merriss said the city staff has focused most of its energy crafting the FY 2015 budget proposal. She said now that the draft is done, staff has turned its attention back to other issues, like the concerns the Coalition raised. She said she will meet with Decatur Police officials on Thursday to discuss next steps.

“There are some things on the list that will be relatively simple … and we will look at those first,” Merriss said. She told commissioners that staff had, “put some placeholder financial resources in your proposed budget, so if those are necessary, we will have some funds there.”

Merriss said she expects there will be “a series of responses” from the city.

Denard first brought his concerns to the commission in January. An internal police department investigation cleared the officer involved, but Denard’s story got people talking.

Soon other black residents, mostly black men, came forward to describe their encounters with Decatur Police. The men told their stories during a meeting on March 30 at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church. The session included the accounts of Terry LeCount, a former NFL wide receiver and paraprofessional at Oakhurst Elementary and Thaddeus Nathaniel, the husband of a longtime Decatur resident. The Coalition says the grandson of former Mayor Elizabeth Wilson was also profiled.

Mayor Jim Baskett apologized to Denard.

“I apologize for having not corresponded with you and let you know we were staying on it,” he told Denard. “We’ll get you a response and it won’t be too much longer.”

The city also recently hired an intern who will be conducting a separate study of diversity in the city and make recommendations about how to encourage more of it. City spokeswoman Casie Yoder said the intern is a former Decatur High graduate who is working toward his master of public administration degree at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

Yoder said the intern’s study won’t specifically focus on concerns about racial profiling, but it will likely delve into the role the police department plays in the community.

“The scope of the project is the entire city of Decatur community, which will undoubtedly include all city services and departments,” she said.