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Georgia Senate review group scrutinizing lethal force, chokeholds by police
Georgia State Capitol
The Georgia State Capitol. - photo by David Clemons

Police training and tactics like chokeholds, no-knock warrants and rubber bullets for crowd control in Georgia will face scrutiny from a group of state lawmakers tasked with making reform recommendations for law enforcement agencies before year’s end.

The Georgia Senate study committee looking at policing techniques and oversight comes after the General Assembly passed legislation outlawing hate crimes following testy debate in the 2020 legislative session between Republican and Democratic state senators.

The study committee will assess the use of lethal force, training procedures, de-escalation techniques and “practices which may need to be prohibited or more strictly regulated” such as chokeholds, no-knock warrants, tear gas and rubber bullets, according to legislation creating the committee.

“Law enforcement officers across our state put their lives on the line for us every day, and are generally underpaid and oftentimes not provided with tools for success,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

“This committee will engage in a comprehensive study of our law enforcement practices in order to examine whether we are adequately equipping officers with the necessary training to protect our communities.”

The study committee has to draft recommendations by Dec. 15.

Several of the same senators who butted heads during negotiations over last-minute changes to the hate-crimes bill have been tapped as members of the study committee, who were announced by Duncan’s office on Thursday.

Included among them are Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who led Republican efforts in the Senate to add police officers and other first responders as protected classes under the hate-crimes bill.

That move sparked stiff opposition from Democratic senators including Sen. Harold Jones II, D-Augusta, who led negotiations on the Democratic side. He is also a member of the study committee.

Adding police to the hate-crimes protections threatened to scuttle support for the bill in June after state lawmakers from both parties backed the measure amid protests in Atlanta and nationwide against police brutality and racial injustice.

The police protections were ultimately pulled from the hate-crimes bill and included in separate legislation. Both measures passed the General Assembly and were signed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

The hate-crimes bill gained momentum after the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed in a pursuit by two white men while jogging near Brunswick in February. The two men claimed they were making a citizen’s arrest after spotting Arbery at a construction site alleged to have been burglarized.

Several Democratic lawmakers brought bills in June that took aim at repealing the state’s citizen’s arrest and stand-your-ground laws, as well as creating “anti-choke hold” rules, a ban on no-knock search warrants and new oversight for district attorneys. None advanced in the legislature.

Also named to the study committee were Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro; Senate Public Safety Committee Chairman John Albers, R-Roswell; Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, a retired major with the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office; and Sen. Gail Davenport, D-Jonesboro, a real estate professional and civil rights advocate.