Today, a group of attorneys, health care professionals, and community-based organizations sent a letter to Chief Erika Shields of the Atlanta Police Department, asking that she immediately instruct all APD officers to cease endangering the larger community and furthering the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus by making non-essential arrests and exposing citizens and officers alike to multiple points of contact, each of which is a potential point of transmission.
The booking sheet for the Atlanta City Detention Center, over a 24-hour period of March 18th, reveals that in the midst of a pandemic, APD is utilizing its significant resources to arrest people for things such as Urban Camping, Drinking in Public, and Possession of Marijuana – charges which Chief Shields has publicly declared to be deprioritized, even in non-crisis times.COVID-19_Expert_Community_Letter_to_APD_3-20-20
For each arrest, there are 20 -70 points of contact between the person being arrested and other people, including city personnel. These include but are not limited to:
· the officer making the arrest and their partner;
· booking and intake officers;
· bail security and maintenance personnel;
· Municipal Court personnel, prosecutors and public defenders that must participate in the adjudication process; and
· every other person in the “holding cell” who has been non-essentially arrested.
The letter urges Chief Shields to impose penalties on officers who continue to critically endanger public health by making non-essential arrests. Officers should be directed to use many alternatives at their disposal including de-escalation, issuance of citation, and diversion.
“Every nonessential arrest made by APD is a threat to our collective public safety and health. Chief Shields has an opportunity to redefine policing in times of crisis. It is imperative that her directives require officers to play a leading role in flattening the curve in the City of Atlanta and beyond,” said Tiffany Roberts, Movement Building Counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights.
Read the letter here.