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Atlanta launches police use of force database, shows in 2019 and 2020 most subjects were young Black men

The database is the result of a recommendation made by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Use of Force Advisory Council

ATLANTA — Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms this week launched what appears to be a first-of-its-kind program in the metro area, with the city of Atlanta's new police use of force database.

It was developed from a recommendation made by Bottoms' Use of Force Advisory Council. She assembled the council in 2020 following protests calling for social justice and police reform as well as recent use of force incidents within the city including the killing of Rayshard Brooks. 

Last June, the council met and later issued a list of recommendations for reform. 

"For a year and some months they've had these recommendations, but it is a good step in the right direction to have publicly available information so the public can see how many use of force situations have happened in the city of Atlanta," Attorney Gerald Griggs said. 

Griggs questions why it took so long for the database to be launched, but he sees the positive of it now being online. 

He represents the subjects of several use of force incidents, or their families, where he alleges police acted unlawfully. 

His cases include Jimmy Atchison, a young man shot and killed by an APD officer in 2019.

More recently, Ashley Cooley, a woman captured in a cell phone video being kicked in the head by an Atlanta police sergeant who has since been fired.

The city's database allows anyone to see the locations of use of force incidents by police zones, the type of force used, if there is video footage and the demographics of the people involved. 

According to Bottoms' office, "The purpose of the Use of Force Dashboard is to improve transparency, increase trust between the public and APD and facilitate fact-based discussions around police performance in the city of Atlanta."

The city plans to update the data quarterly with the next update coming in October. 

While he applauds the city's efforts, Griggs would like to see the database go further with the information presented. 

"I would like to see accountability, what that looks like," Griggs said. "The amount of punishment, the cases referred to the district attorney's office, and the outcome of the referrals."

Certain trends are visible through the database. 

In 2020 for example, most use of force incidents involved young Black men.

Out of 213 incidents that year, 85% of subjects were Black, 82% were men and 40% were 26 to 35 years old. 

Out of 288 incidents in 2019, the percentages were nearly the same. 

Griggs has previously tracked details of use of force incidents around the metro area and said he isn't surprised by what the data shows but believes it clearly shows an important issue. 

"It shows a culture that needs to be reformed and these reforms are slow in coming," he said. 

Data shows the majority of officers in 2020 had between one and five years of service with APD, 67% were Black and 92% were men. 

In 2020, House Bill 636 at the Georgia State Capitol called for a statewide use of force database. The democratic written bill though failed to become law.

On the federal level, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act previously passed through the House but hasn't received a Senate vote. It would create a nationwide use of force database.

Alongside the database, Bottoms also launched a video evidence portal, where the public can submit videos of use of force incidents involving Atlanta Police, with the videos then being sent to Atlanta Police's Office of Professional Standards to be investigated. 

"Complaints and associated footage may be submitted anonymously, if desired," according to the mayor's office.

Griggs also approves of the video evidence portal as a positive step but is interested to see what comes of it. He said in the past certain use of force incidents weren't closely investigated until video was published online and led to public outcry. 

One such case was outside of Atlanta, with the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick

"I'm a little hesitant. I would still advise the public to submit the videos to the NAACP or a third party that can hold police accountable until the police show that they're truly about accountability," Griggs said.