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ACC Commission sees presentations by ACCPD, SPLOST at work session

At a special called session last night, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission approved a grant application from the county’s Superior Court for American Rescue Plan funds. That money would address the ongoing backlog of felony and civil cases caused by the pandemic by hiring more staff. The grant could be approved by March.  

While trial courts have remained largely operational, Chief Judge Eric Norris cited over 1,000 felonies yet to be indicted due to a lack of jury courts. Circuit Public Defender John Donnelly cited concerns about staffing in his office which deals with cases from Clarke and Oconee County. The Public Defender’s office would be largely left out from receiving this grant money.

The Commission also saw presentations for two TSPLOST 2018 projects. Concepts for 25 pedestrian and traffic improvements off Prince Avenue and 16 new multi-transfer bus stops are dependent on Commission approval in the upcoming months.

In a final presentation, Police Department Chief Cleveland Spruill, Sherriff John Williams and Deputy Chief Harrison Daniel walked the commission through existing police department equipment and response tactics. The ACCPD focused on listing standard weaponry, tools and technology used by local officers.

Spruill emphasized de-escalation and de-militarization as areas of focus.

“We want our officers to have these tools. We want them to know that they can use force when its necessary and when its legally justified," Spruill said. "But we want them as much as possible to avoid it whenever they can.”

Spruill said officers most often reach for their taser as a stunning device. Officers are required to report when they take out a gun or taser, both of which fall under “use of force.” In 2020, there were 204 such instances compared to 283 a year prior.

The presentation didn’t go without minor controversy. In light of the thousand-dollar rifles often carried by ACCPD officers, Commissioner Tim Denson questioned Spruill’s efforts on de-militarization. Commissioner Mariah Parker refused to watch the presentation, citing mistrust. And Commissioner Jesse Houle questioned police response, comparing crowds from the National Championship Game on Monday night to those that were forcibly dispersed during the summer of 2020.

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