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Avondale Estates City Commission discusses failed police accreditation, soliciting a third-party review

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Avondale Estates City Commission discusses failed police accreditation, soliciting a third-party review

Krystal Kvinge holds a sign during a peaceful protest in Avondale Estates for Black Lives Matter and 21st Century Police Reform sponsored by Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice on August 8, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission held a special called meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 6, to discuss the next steps for the city’s police department. Those steps include hiring third-party consultants to review the department, conducting a nationwide search for the next police chief, and working to secure the department’s evidence room.

Receiving accreditation from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police was identified as a top priority for the city to make sure the police department is operating with the highest standards essential for operations of law enforcement agencies to be efficient and effective.

The police department initiated the certification process and the police chief hired the accreditation manager prior to City Manager Patrick Bryant being hired in 2018. Bryant said it was a good sign Chief Lynn Thomas was on board with the City Commission’s priority for certification.

“From what I could see, the department was running very smoothly, and I had no reason to believe otherwise,” Bryant said.

He places a lot of trust in the department heads to do their jobs, and he didn’t feel the need to micromanage a process that was seemingly going well.

“The chief and I had numerous conversations about the certification process, and the updates that I received from him were positive,” Bryant said. “However, moving forward, I realize my mistake and the lessons learned from it. I will take a more hands-on approach, as much as the law allows me to, to ensure all of the [City Commission’s] goals and my directives are being performed adequately.”

On Sept. 20, the city announced the department did not receive the accreditation. The scathing report produced as a result of the failed accreditation attempt led to the retirement of the police chief and resignation of the police department’s accreditation manager, Decaturish previously reported.

“No one is more disappointed than I am that the police department did not receive certification, and more importantly, that the process was handled so poorly,” City Manager Patrick Bryant said. “Once informed of the failure, I took immediate action to address the situation.”

Assessment Team Leader Valerie Johnson said in the report that she would feel “irresponsible recommending certification for the [Avondale Estates Police Department], based on the number of compliance issues and the amount of work still needing to be done to bring the agency’s policies up to standard.”

The report stated that 50 compliance files needed to be corrected due to an overwhelming lack of documentation on the first day of the assessment. By the second day, 30 files still needed to be fixed.

The report also highlighted compliance issues with the department’s property and evidence areas, saying they were not properly secured. One issue highlighted was that three out of four walls of the evidence storage room were made of sheetrock and could potentially be easily penetrated.

The assessment team recommended the department reinforce the walls of the room with chain link or some other caging to add an extra layer of protection. The accreditation manager rejected that suggestion, the report says.

The review took place on Aug. 9-10 and the report was submitted to the coordinator for state certification with GACP on Aug. 30. The GACP circulated the report among several committees before denying the certification and sending the report to the city.

“I received the report the same day Chief Thomas did on Sept. 16,” Bryant said. “It was immediately clear to me and to anyone else who has read it that there were issues. The city attorney and I spoke with both Chief Thomas and Lieutenant Thompson to understand when wrong.”

Bryant also spoke with GACP’s the coordinator for state certification to better understand the department’s failures.

“As a civilian, I don’t have access to the PowerDMS system to review our compliance files,” Bryant said. “Next week, however, I’m meeting with the auditor who conducted our assessment, Valerie Johnson, via Zoom. She’s going to walk me through our files and explain their deficiencies and share with me how to improve them.”

GACP has also put Bryant in contact with a property and evidence storage expert with the city of Dunwoody. The expert will be at the police department on Oct. 20 to provide recommendations on how to improve the city’s evidence facility.

Bryant said this issue needs to be addressed immediately, and he asked for assistance as quickly as possible. He plans to bring any cost to provide extra layers of security in the property and evidence area immediately to the board.

GACP will additionally help Bryant with the nationwide search for the new police chief. The agency will help develop and place the job announcement. They will then conduct an intensive assessment of the top candidates.

“Then they will recommend the top candidates from that assessment phase for the city to interview,” Bryant said. “I also plan, as a part of that interview process, to have some sort of community driven component, because I want the community to be involved with and comfortable with the eventual candidate that we select to be our next chief of police.”

At the Sept. 22 City Commission meeting, Mayor Jonathan Elmore outlined the city’s next steps, 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.

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police will assist the city with developing the request for proposals for the third-party review. The City Commission agreed to send out two RFPs — one that addresses the operational concerns, and the other that will focus on racial equity concerns. The commissioners agreed that while the work of the consultants should overlap, the reviews will need different skill sets.

“The suggestion for the split was largely because we’re looking at two different things and there might be two different groups who have expertise to do it,” Bryant said. “One is operations from soup to nuts — office space, equipment, vehicles, training, policies and procedures, staffing levels, operations, staffing levels, record keeping. All of that kind of stuff would be one, and then the other topic would be racial equity.”

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