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Avondale mayor outlines next steps for police department following staff shakeup

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Avondale mayor outlines next steps for police department following staff shakeup

Photo caption: Avondale Estates Mayor Jonathan Elmore focused on progress and the city’s major construction and policy projects in the State of the City Address given on Wednesday, May 5, via Zoom. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Avondale Estates, GA — Following the news of the Avondale Estates Police Department failing to receive certification from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, Avondale Estates Mayor Jonathan Elmore outlined the next steps during the City Commission meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 22.

“While I’m disappointed that the certification process was not handled with the professionalism expected from our department, I am pleased that the city took immediate action to address the issue,” Elmore said. “Steps have been outlined to correct the problems identified in the certification report and a plan is being developed to make our police force the best possible for our community, our businesses and our visitors.”

Elmore also described the next steps for the city, which include hiring a qualified third party consultant to review the police department entirely, including policies and procedures, policing protocols, equipment, security protocols and staffing levels, he said. 

Following the report from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police about the police department released on Sept. 20, the city announced Police Chief Lynn Thomas is retiring and City Manager Patrick Bryant has accepted the resignation of the department’s accreditation manager, Lt. Duanne Thompson.

The city will conduct an executive search for the new police chief, Elmore said.

“The acting police chief will immediately begin to make corrections to the compliance files to ensure the department is prepared to go through the certification process once it is able to reapply in 12 months,” Elmore said. “And last, … the city will immediately begin work with the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police to ensure the city’s evidence room is secured in accordance with the standards outlined for certification.”

Elmore added that he will be calling a special called meeting in the next two weeks to discuss the police department and how the city will move forward.

During public comment, City Manager Bryant was asked if he received frequent updates from the police department about the accreditation process. He indicated he had been misled about the process.

“I was consistently updated on the status of the accreditation falsely,” Bryant said.

Bryant declined to comment further on the issue.

Members of the community and the Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice have been advocating for a third party consultant since last summer. The board first considered hiring a consultant in June 2020 and interviewed two candidates in September 2020. Residents at the meeting continued to urge the City Commission to hire a consultant.

“I join with others in calling for a third party consultant to be hired ASAP to evaluate our police department. Particularly in terms of the disparity in how people are treated,” resident Patti Ghezzi said. “Drivers passing through Avondale Estates, who are often Black, are treated one way and residents of Avondale estates are treated a different way. I wish to live in a city that treats everyone equally and with respect every day as part of our culture.”

Ghezzi also said the next police chief should be an external hire in order to address changes at a cultural level of the department. She has been working on a study regarding traffic citations and has been trying to talk to neighbors and elected officials about the police department’s treatment of people driving through the city.

“I have been met with defensiveness, sarcasm and denial, not unlike the attitudes expressed in the accreditation report,” Ghezzi said. “People have said everything is great despite evidence to the contrary.”

Lisa Cottrell, a member of the Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice, also urged the city to move toward a community policing model, such as 21st Century Policing. The AARJ has also been advocating for this over the past year and the group has garnered about 997 signatures on a petition urging the city to implement the  21st Century Policing Implementation Guide. This was a task force created by President Barack Obama. The 11-member task force created a guidebook of recommendations in 2015.

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