FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — At their June 17 meeting, Fulton County commissioners unanimously approved legislation to establish enhanced penalties for hate crimes.
The ordinance, sponsored by District 2 Commissioner Bob Ellis, calls for criminals who target victims based on race, color, creed, age, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin to face up to 60 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
“Fulton County is a very diverse county, and that diversity represents our strength,” Ellis said. “It is well documented that hate crimes can have a heavy, negative impact on communities. As such, they deserve higher attention and penalties. While the state of Georgia is presently discussing passage of hate crimes legislation, and I am hopeful that this passes soon, counties and municipalities have an important opportunity to also lend their voice and take action with specific ordinances of their own.”
A hate crime is defined as an offense such as disorderly conduct or vandalism with an added element of bias or prejudice, causing it to inflict greater individual or societal harm. The hate crimes legislation would be enforced in the unincorporated area of Fulton County.
Ellis noted the legislation closely mirrors an ordinance passed by Sandy Springs. The legislation also calls on the Fulton County Police Department to collect data concerning hart crimes and provide that information to the FBI.
In a separate action, commissioners approved legislation requiring officers working for the county’s three law enforcement agencies — Fulton County Police, Fulton County Marshals and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office — to avoid the use of neck restraints and deadly force against suspects.
The legislation also calls on officers to report incidents of police misconduct they witness. The ordinances were proposed by Commissioner Marvin Arrington, Jr. and co-sponsored by Commissioners Natalie Hall, Ellis and Joe Carn.
“Recent events in our nation as well as right here in our community have highlighted the need to provide clear guidelines to our officers about the behavior we expect from them during the course of their jobs,” Arrington said. “While we need police to protect and defend our communities, we also insist upon accountability on those who take the oath to protect and serve.”
The legislation calls on law enforcement agencies to create policies, training, practices and a culture which support the de-escalation of the use of force. The legislation goes on to suggest that “the use of deadly force be limited to only those situations where a suspect has committed or is in the process of committing a felony involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical injury or death; and the escape of the suspect would pose an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”
The agencies are also urged to refrain from use of chokeholds. Any use of this technique by a county officer would be thoroughly investigated, and if they violate the letter or spirit of the law, would result in punishment up to and including termination of employment, recommendation of loss of law enforcement certification and reporting of potential criminal activity to the Fulton County District Attorney. None of these three Fulton County agencies had a policy on chokeholds prior to this legislation.
The legislation also seeks to encourage cities in Fulton County to adopt similar measures regarding the actions of their law enforcement officers and calls on the Georgia General Assembly to enact laws dealing with deadly force, neck restraints and police misconduct.