ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Police departments around the state are scrambling to comply with a new state law that requires those suspected of minor offenses, such as possession of marijuana and shoplifting, be detained and fingerprinted.
The new law, drafted as part of former Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2017 Criminal Justice Reform Bill, was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, but law enforcement agencies have been granted until July to comply.
Alpharetta Public Safety Director John Robison says the new law will rob police of a vital tool in criminal investigations.
“This is going to be removing discretion from us when it comes to a lot of these charges,” Robison told the City Council Monday.
Under the new law, Robison said, if an 18-year-old, a senior in high school, is pulled over and found to be in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana – a misdemeanor amount -- he or she must be taken to jail for fingerprinting.
“Many times like that, if he’s cooperative, we will work with him; we’re not going to arrest him and take him to jail,” Robison said. “We’re going to write him a citation and say show up for court.”
The new law changes all that, Robison said.
He continued: “Now what we have to do is we have to throw him in the back of the car; we have to take him to the jail, and we have to get him fingerprinted, which, of course, is going to create a record for him.”
Members of the City Council expressed astonishment.
Councilman Donald Mitchell was furious, calling it another example of how the state – without consulting local authorities – pushes through legislation that creates havoc for cities.
“It should trouble every parent – everyone who’s ever had a child, and they should write to state legislators, and call them and tell them about how troubling this is,” Mitchell said.
In the meantime, city officials said they want to pursue a path to restore discretionary powers back to police. One approach, they said, would be to change city ordinances to include minor misdemeanors under an umbrella charge of disorderly conduct. This way, they said, police would be able to decide whether to detain a suspect or simply release him or her with a citation.