Athens Police Department

The Athens Police Department. Photo by Sarah Donaldson.

Athens City Council passed ordinances Monday night renewing the city’s new three-year contract with the Athens City Fraternal Order of Police, despite the concerns of activists who called for the completion of a racial equity review prior to the passage of the contracts.

Council passed ordinances 0-152-20 and 0-153-20 during its Monday night meeting. The police union contracts will be valid from Jan. 1, 2021 through Dec. 31, 2023 and the current agreement remains largely unchanged from the previous agreement. Clauses outlining officer compensation and insurance benefits were amended, among other technicalities, The Athens NEWS previously reported.

The proposed ordinances tied to the contracts were introduced by Council on Dec. 7, and Damon Krane, a leader of online activist organization Athens County Copwatch and a former mayoral candidate, called the timeframe for the ordinances’ consideration “rushed.”

Athens County Copwatch consists of multiple county residents who have tasked themselves with “policing the police." The group claims racial biases exist in city policing, a conclusion drawn through datasets collected through a slew of public records requests. The group has in the past made inaccurate claims about clauses within the newly approved contracts.

Krane said during the Dec. 21 meeting that Council President Chris Knisely informed him that is “part of Council’s normal end-of-the-year process,” but he noted that Council has known since 2017 it would have to renegotiate the contract.

“I just really want to point out that you are rushing ratification of these contracts …. in half the time you normally devote to considering ordinances,” Krane said. “despite all of the concerns that’s been raised around these contracts and other issues of police accountability and racial equity locally.”

Additionally, Krane said the ratification of the contracts only “scratches the surface” of the issue, nodding to the resolution Council passed in June declaring racism a public health crisis. Councilmember Sarah Grace previously proposed the resolution to make the declaration during a committee meeting.

This resolution (Resolution 10-20) called for multiple actions from the City of Athens, including requesting that Mayor Steve Patterson create a work group to promote racial equity community engagement, as well as to build partnerships with organizations that “have a history of fighting racism.”

The resolution also requested that elected officials receive racial equity training and it committed city officials to reviewing the Athens City Code “under a lens of racial equity.” Grace said at the June 22 meeting that the resolution will focus on conducting human resource actions under the same lens of racial equity, having impacts on internal policies and practices like hiring, promotion and funding.

“We’re still waiting on that racial equity review,” Krane said.

Athens County Copwatch member Genesis Vaughn, who uses she/her and they/them pronouns, said as a Black Athenian, she is very disappointed to see the ordinances approved.

“It is very disrespectful to have a resolution saying that racism is a public health concern, but yet, you are not doing anything to actually address racism,” Vaughn said. “The decision is in all of your hands.”

Although the contract is set to go into effect after the passage of two ordinances, members of Athens County Copwatch representatives who attended Council’s meeting on Monday pointed to other areas of police reform they feel the city needs to address.

Brendan Moran, another member of Athens County Copwatch, requested that Council review the Athens Police Department’s use of force policy for officers, for example.

During a Dec. 7 Council meeting, Council members discussed the police union contracts during the ordinances’ first readings with APD Police Chief Tom Pyle, who dismissed claims made by the activist group in regard to the expungement of records of police misconduct.

Officers, according to a copy of the contract obtained by The NEWS, are granted the ability to remove written and oral reprimands, and records of suspensions from their personnel file within a period of time as long as there are no intervening disciplinary actions against the employee within the given timeframe.

Once removed from an officer’s personnel file, the records are moved into another database maintained by the Human Resources department where they are still made available through public records requests and internally to the department.  

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