The Conyers Police Department will begin releasing race-specific arrest data online in its latest post-Ferguson response, Chief Gene Wilson told the News at the April 1 City Council meeting.
Wilson's main reason for appearing before the council was to present the police department's official state recertification, which shows commitment to best practice and training. Those are the keys, Wilson has previously said, to preventing deadly debacles like last summer's infamous police killing and protests in Ferguson, Mo.
But Wilson also hefted a copy of the U.S. Department of Justice's report on the Ferguson Police Department, while telling the council, "We're going through it line by line to make sure we don't have any issues they have."
Wilson has previously said he expects new federal policing standards to emerge from Ferguson, and he wants Conyers PD to be ahead of them. One item: diversifying its ranks, which are currently more than 80 percent white in a majority-black city.
Meanwhile, Wilson told the News, he recently sent copies of the DOJ report to each member of his command staff for review and comment.
"If we're in a position to improve, then we will," Wilson said. "It kind of gives us a blueprint for if this [type of police killing], God forbid, happened here, we would be in a better position to interact with the community [and prove that its policies] haven't adversely impacted any one demographic area or part of the city."
One policy he will start within days is posting data on the race of people arrested or subjected to "officer-initiated contact" by CPD. It will show the number of arrests/stops, the race of the people involved, and how the stats compare with overall city demographics.
As a preview, Wilson told the News that arrest rates for white and black people are roughly the same, and both are arrested at rates a bit higher than their percentage of the population. Latino people have disproportionately lower arrest rates, he said.
"It looks very good, and I'm very pleased with it," Wilson said of those numbers. "I'm not sure I'll ever convince [all] people there's no profiling," he said, but added that the data is worth doing for accountability.
"We're trying to interact with the community as much as we can," Wilson said.
The recertification from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police is another significant step for CPD. Wilson took over the department in 2010 following its loss of certification and the
related resignation of the former chief. At the meeting, City Councilman Vince Evans recalled that as "one of the lowest points I can remember here in the city."
Recertification is a challenging process, so gaining it-the initial announcement came in February-was a big step. However, CPD is also seeking an even more comprehensive certification from the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, which will review the department over the summer.
In other council business:
-The council finally figured out a way to allow a well-liked trailer-selling business to make an expansion that was prohibited by zoning.
Rockland Cargo Equipment at 1532 Old McDonough Highway is a non-conforming use grandfathered into the Gateway Village rezoning carried out in 2012. Rockland Cargo wants to expand into a half-acre parking lot, but expanding a nonconforming use is virtually never allowed.
After months of debate, rejected proposals and fears of unintended consequences, the solution finally came. A change to the zoning code essentially allows utility trailer dealers in Gateway Village under a set of restrictions that in practice apply to nothing but Rockland's location.
"I think we have something everyone can be comfortable with and won't be a dangerous precedent," said Councilman John Fountain.
The solution is still a "little tricky," city Planning Director Marvin Flanigan said, because another part of the business-selling prefab sheds-is still not allowed to expand on the site. The city will have to be careful about monitoring that part, he said.
-The council recognized Yvonne Glumb, an administration and finance employee who manages property taxes, for 15 years of service.
-Mayor Randy Mills and Councilman Chris Bowen were absent from the meeting. Following the meeting, the council entered an executive session to discuss "land acquisition," said City Manager Tony Lucas.