NAACP report criticizes Macon police

Members of the executive committee of the Macon-Bibb County Branch of the NAACP held a news conference Tuesday to announce the findings of a recent inquiry by the organization into the Macon Police Department.

Gwenette Westbrook, chair of the branch’s legal redress committee and the report’s author, said the investigation was launched more than two years ago after four city police officers filed complaints with the group, alleging various departmental issues related to preferential treatment, unenforced policy and disparities in promotional practices.

The officers complained of incidents where fellow officers had repeatedly violated policy but avoided disciplinary action.

The allegations of policy infractions cited incidents where citizens were assaulted while in custody; officers pointed weapons at their supervisors; officers “double-dipped,” or were on the clock at the department while working another job; and overtime pay was promised to officers but not paid.

While many officers were satisfied with their starting salaries, according to the report, they were unsatisfied with the rate of promotions and felt the test-based pay system generally was unfair. Veteran officers reported having greater difficulty getting promoted.

Officers also alleged that certain officers were given access to the department’s promotion exam before taking the test.

“Chief Burns relies heavily on high ranking officers to supervise his male and female officers. Some officers seem to think that the intent, which is unknown to the chief, is to undermine him by not properly training and/or preparing the lower ranking officers on department policies and procedures. In some instances, this is done to keep them from one day replacing them in that same leadership capacity. This undermining tactic creates a disservice to Chief Burns and the department,” the reports states.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urges more mentoring between supervising officers and lower ranking officers. Outside Macon City Hall shortly after noon Tuesday, Al Tillman, president of the local NAACP chapter, said Macon Police Chief Mike Burns had actively worked with the organization during the investigation.

“Chief Burns received a copy of the report April 21. He has been very cooperative. Everybody that we asked him for access to, he’s offered,” Tillman said. “We would like him to extend that opportunity for an open dialogue to his own officers.”

Burns did not attend the news conference and no Macon officers were present. Burns also seems to be unclear about whether he has received the NAACP report.

In an e-mail to The Telegraph on Friday afternoon, he said: “I have a copy of it (the report) also. Before I make any comments I would rather wait until Al makes an official announcement to see if there are any more issues. I would think next week maybe.”

In an e-mail to The Telegraph on Tuesday evening, Burns said: “I received a copy of the letter but not a full report, so I still do not know what other matters may be. I am scheduling a meeting between Al, the CAO (city’s chief administrative officer) and myself to go over everything.”

Moving forward, Tillman said the organization will focus on four main goals.

“We want to grant an open dialogue among officers and supervisors, one where officers can speak without any fear of retribution or disciplinary action. We want to work on the excessive ticket writing and citations that are being given to our African-American residents. We want to teach a lot of our citizens a new way of dealing with the police. We want them to comply with the commands of the officers. So many of our citizens are hostile or become hostile when they interact with police, and that’s when these alleged tickets are being written,” he said.

Tillman said many black residents reported feeling unfairly targeted by police, which has contributed to an unwillingness by some residents to assist officers with criminal investigations.

“There’s something going on that makes a citizen say, ‘I’m not going to help police. I’m not going to give you information even when someone’s house was just sprayed with bullets right down the street,’’’ he said. “How do we change the perception that’s been passed on from generation to generation?”

The organization also recommends that the department change the makeup of the Disciplinary Review Board, which reviews internal investigations of alleged officer misconduct.

“We think citizens and city officials, along with police officers, should comprise the board,” Westbrook said, “This way, citizens who file complaints will have more confidence that the people evaluating their complaints are less biased and serious about investigating matters.”

The investigation, Westbrook said, included meeting with the four former officers, checking their personnel records and meeting with members of the community.

“The NAACP and all citizens should be ready and prepared to stand with Macon police. Through unity and visibility, it is our belief that this will change the negative perception citizens may have or experienced in the past,” the reports states. “This community effort is an opportunity to call for a truce.”

Tillman said the organization will hold a public forum May 21 at City Hall to discuss the report with residents. The meeting will start at 6 p.m.

To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, call 744-4347.