Mayor Kasim Reed stood shoulder to shoulder with his new police chief on Friday and proclaimed that “we have work to do” to protect and serve the city’s LGBT residents with “heightened sensitivity.”
The comments from Reed (top photo right) came as the mayor named George Turner (top photo left) as his nominee as the city’s top cop. Reed promoted Turner to acting chief in January and then launched a weeks-long hiring process for a new police chief that included a public forum with Turner and two other finalists in June.
Reed made his pick public during a City Hall press conference Friday morning in which he said selecting the city’s next top cop “was the toughest decision I’ve made as mayor.” Reed cited Turner’s life-long ties to Atlanta, his command staff restructuring and a 14-percent drop in crime since January as reasons why he picked the 29-year law enforcement veteran.
“I intend to challenge the major cities in the United States of America for having the safest city in the United States,” Reed said. “Anybody that can not get that done will not continue to lead this department. I am not intending Atlanta to be somewhat safe.”
Reed, facing continued criticism of the agency from LGBT residents, also pledged that Turner and the department will work to improve the relationship between gay citizens that was severely strained after the Atlanta Police Department raided the Eagle last September. More recently, the agency has been criticized for its handling of the department’s LGBT liaison.
Reed addressed that criticism about seven minutes into his 13-minute introduction of Turner as his police chief nominee.
“I expect a chief and a police department that will seek the counsel and direction of the LGBT liaison, Officer Patricia Powell, on all matters relating to the fair, just and appropriate treatment of the valued citizens of this community,” Reed said. “In addition, our police force will live up to its creed and protect and serve the LGBT community with an ever-heightened sensitivity, responsiveness and commitment to getting it right. We have work to do there.”
Reed also reiterated comments he’s made since taking office in January that the police department under his watch will treat LGBT residents fairly.
“I expect and will not tolerate a police department that does not treat all citizens with respect and fairness. Our officers must abide by the laws they are sworn to uphold and they must show understanding of the many diverse people who make our city so special and so unique,” Reed said.
Wan wants face-to-face with top cop nominee
The City Council must confirm Turner’s appointment. Councilmember Alex Wan (second photo), the only openly gay member of the 15-member panel, said Friday that he’s been encouraged by the drop in crime seen since Turner was named interim chief. But he’s waiting until a face-to-face meeting with Turner before deciding whether he’ll vote to confirm him.
“I have not yet decided whether or not I will be voting for Chief Turner,” Wan said. “As you know, as part of the council confirmation process, each council member will get a chance to meet one-on-one with the candidate. I’m looking forward to that conversation, because I have many questions to ask him specifically about his views on the department’s LGBT policies and procedures in light of all that has happened in the last 12 months, part of which was on his watch as interim chief.”
Wan said he’s inclined to support Turner’s nomination based on his overall performance since January, but that concerns over LGBT issues are weighing heavily in his consideration.
“I really need to take this opportunity to discuss with him my concerns about APD’s recent handling of LGBT issues—and more importantly, how things will be going forward—before making my decision,” Wan added.
‘Tweak’ use of LGBT liaison
In January, standing beside Reed when he was named acting chief, Turner said the department “tweaked the way” the LGBT liaison was informed of issues relating to LGBT citizens. That came after reports that the LGBT liaison did not learn about the Eagle raid until a day later when asked by a reporter.
“As it relates to how Officer Harris works when we do investigations, we’ve tweaked the way that we inform her of issues as we are dealing with investigations and we will continue to have her involved early on in investigations. She will continue to be in that role. I have not looked at changing her out of that role,” Turner said in January.
But since Turner made those comments, the department’s LGBT liaison of more than four years, Office Dani Lee Harris, has been placed on medial leave and filed a grievance with the agency, the department didn’t publicly announce her replacement until questioned by the LGBT media and activists, no liaison attended a large-scale LGBT demonstration in May, and Powell (third photo) wasn’t informed of the armed robbery of a gay couple until three days after they were attacked in Piedmont Park.
On Wednesday, the department issued a statement that said it didn’t follow its own procedures in taking three days to notify Powell of the Piedmont Park incident, which they classified as a bias crime.
Turner, on Friday, took exception to the assertion that as acting chief he hadn’t followed up on the comments he made in January concerning the LGBT liaison.
“First of all, I beg to differ with you that there is no change in the way we handle this,” Turner said. “First of all we’ve had a person that we’ve appointed in that space since our last person has been out on some challenges with her health. The other piece is getting that person in the community and she has been very active in the community learning the various community leaders and finding out exactly how that community wants to be policed and engaging her in all of the aspects of what we are doing in dealing with that community.”
Turner also cited the six arrests that were made July 2 just minutes after the gay couple was attacked in Piedmont Park. Earlier this week, the agency announced plans to launch a nine-person LGBT advisory board that Powell will work with.
“I think that we’ve been very aggressive on the crimes that occurred around Piedmont Park and being effective in making those arrests in the robberies. We’ve been very aggressive in that and we will continue to do that. I’ve met with that community and I’ll continue to meet with them because I think it’s important and a very vital part of our mission,” Turner said.
In his opening remarks, Turner said he’s attended 86 community meetings since January. That public outreach included attending and speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony in Piedmont Park earlier this year with the American Veterans for Equal Rights, a gay veterans group. The chief did not attend a May 19 meeting at police headquarters introducing Powell to LGBT activists, non-profit leaders and media outlets.
“I’ve had the same message and that is the citizens desire a police department that has integrity, that is accountable and that’s the police department we’re going to continue to have,” Turner said.
Powell has increased her public profile since being introduced as LGBT liaison in May. She’s attended several LGBT events, including the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce last month and the GA Voice Best of Atlanta party on Thursday, and now serves on the board of the Atlanta Executive Network, a gay business group.
Learning from San Francisco police
Reed also announced Friday that his administration is working with local government officials in San Francisco to learn how that city’s police department handles hate crimes and reporting of the incidents.
“We are also working with San Francisco to learn their protocol as it relates to hate crimes and crimes of that nature and we’re going to be implementing that as well,” the mayor said.
Reed added that Atlanta police training will incorporate the lessons gleaned from law enforcement in San Francisco.
“We are reviewing the appropriate training to make sure that we have a police department that is far more sensitive to issues and crime reporting around LGBT related crimes. The leader in that space is Mayor Gavin Newsom and the City of San Francisco and that is the city that we will be modeling after. I initiated that outreach prior to the incidents in Piedmont Park. That will be the model that we will be following and that will be the kind of training that we will be following as it relates to our police officers,” Reed said.