DUNWOODY, Ga. — The Dunwoody City Council unanimously passed a resolution June 15 urging Georgia legislators to pass a state hate crimes law.
The council also spent over half an hour listening to a presentation by Police Chief Billy Grogan on steps his department has taken to reduce police use of force and increase police accountability.
Last year, a hate crime bill passed with bipartisan support in the Georgia House but was held up in committee in the Senate. Georgia is currently one of only a few states in the nation that does not have a hate crime law.
Following the February killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black jogger in Brunswick, Georgia, passing such legislation has gained momentum. The Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Chamber of Commerce have jointly urged the Legislature to act.
The bill on the table, H.B. 426, would grant judges the ability to impose an enhanced sentence if the court proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or mental or physical disability.
“Hate crimes aren’t meant to target just the individual,” Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch said. “They’re meant to scare or intimidate an entire community.”
The resolution urges the Senate to pass H.B. 426 and for the governor to sign it into law as soon as possible.
Several residents spoke in favor of the resolution during the public comment portion of the meeting. They also had their own suggestions for police reform and addressing racism in the community.
Those ideas included establishing a diversity task force, establishing a citizens police advisory committee, requiring police to hand out a business card with their name after every interaction, and hiring mental health professionals to assist police or intervene in lieu of police in incidents that involve severe mental illness.
Dunwoody’s non-discrimination ordinance, which passed last summer, requires the city’s police officers to complete hate crimes training and report data on hate crimes to the FBI. Chief Grogan said a state hate crimes law is something he has supported for years.
In addition to the hate crimes training, Dunwoody police officers receive training on use of force and de-escalation, scenario-based firearms training and mental health first aid training.
More than half of Dunwoody’s officers have completed a 40-hour crisis intervention training program, and by the end of the year the entire force will have received training on policy legitimacy and community relations, Grogan said. In 2019, officers averaged 146 hours of training.
The city’s use of force policy bans chokeholds, requires de-escalation, requires officers to intervene if deadly force is being used, requires officers to exhaust all other means before using deadly force, and requires officers to give a warning before deploying pepper spray, their Taser or deadly force in most circumstance. Grogan said an example of an exception to the warning rule would be if someone’s life was in immediate danger.
Every use of force incident goes through several layers of internal review, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigates all deaths that take place in police custody and all officer involved shootings.
Grogan also noted in his report that the racial makeup of the city’s police force is similar to the city’s demographics overall, although Asian Americans and women are underrepresented. About 7 percent of the department is women.
“We should always be reviewing our policies, especially use-of-force or any other high liability policies, to make sure there isn’t anything we need to change,” Grogan said. “Should something be taken away? Should something be added? … We’re in the middle of that conversation right now internally. What can we do to make things better?”