Athens City Council passed ordinances Monday night affirming the city’s new three-year contract with the Athens City Fraternal Order of Police despite the urging of activists from Athens County Copwatch who said the process was rushed.
The contract will be valid Jan. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2023, and contains much of the same language as the existing contract, according to a previous Post report. It will also contain a 2.25% wage increase for officers during the first year, followed by a wage reopener in the second and third years.
Legislation pertinent to the contract was introduced by Council on Dec. 7, a timetable that Athens County Copwatch member and former mayoral candidate Damon Krane said is rushed. He said Council President Chris Knisely informed him such an expedition is part of end-of-the-year processes, although Council knew 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, despite all of the concerns that's been raised around these contracts and other issues of police accountability and racial equity locally,” Krane said.
Krane said the rushed ratification only “scratches the surface” of the issue. He said the process is also flawed because it is not informed by the official racial equity review Council pledged to complete in June.
Members of Athens County Copwatch formerly criticized Council for not following through on its plan of action outlined in the June resolution, which declared racism a public health crisis.
Genesis Vaughn, a member of Athens County Copwatch who uses she/her and they/them pronouns, said as a Black resident of Athens, she is very disappointed to see the ordinances pass.
“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 in anything,” Vaughn said. “You are actually participating in white supremacy itself by rushing these ordinances and not even allowing the public to play any role in the terms of how Athens police should function within the city.”
Although the contract is set to go into effect, members of Athens County Copwatch said there are other areas of police reform the city can address. Specifically, Brendan Moran, another member of Athens County Copwatch, urged Council to review the Athens Police Department’s use of force policy for officers.
Moran said to council members at the meeting that the policy currently allows officers to shoot unarmed citizens who are running away. He said officers also don’t have to document when they draw and aim firearms at civilians.
“We have no way of knowing how many close calls the city has been in with regards to police shootings,” Moran said. “This is unaccountability in our police departments, and this is unacceptable.”
APD’s use of force policy is updated on a monthly basis, according to a previous Post report.
Krane also requested the city invite Athens County Copwatch to join its racial equity coalition, saying Copwatch’s work over the past six months would give the coalition a more credible reputation among Athens citizens.
Council also passed ordinances approving increasing the sewer rate and stormwater service charges to help cover the city’s sewer fund debt.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said the city considered all other avenues before raising fees for citizens.