Lawmakers back bills to let voters decide to abolish police department

Riley Bunch/CNHI

Protesters in Atlanta demonstrated on May 29 in response to the killing of Georgia Floyd in Minneapolis and Georgia's Ahmaud Arbery.

ATLANTA — Voters may get a say on whether or not to abolish the Glynn County Police Department after the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

Multiple bills to allow voters to decide to abolish a county police department have been backed by lawmakers.

The Glynn County Police Department’s handling of Arbery’s killing in February revived legislation that would put the decision on the ballot.

The state House of Representatives passed legislation Friday that would allow voters to vote in a binding referendum. The legislation is now pending in the Senate.

A similar bill that would make the vote non-binding passed both the House and Senate and is on its way to the governor’s desk.

The House approved Senate Bill 504 — establishing the non-bonding referendum — Monday in a 159-3 vote.

The legislation would move the duties of the eliminated police department to the authority of the county sheriff’s office. In Georgia counties with two law enforcement agencies, the police department enforces laws within a specific municipality or region while the sheriff’s office enforces laws throughout the county and oversees the jail.

The shooting death of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, sparked criticism of the Glynn County Police Department’s actions in both that case and past cases.

Local elected officials in Glynn County have stood behind the police department’s actions but lawmakers under the Gold Dome think otherwise.

“They should have arrested the (Gregory and Travis) McMichaels at the scene, and they did not,” Rep. Don Hogan, R-St.Simons Island, said Friday.

Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said on the floor that the people of Glynn County deserve to make the decision at the polls.

“There have been too many missteps over there,” he said. “It took months for that police department to do what was right. It is time to go another direction.”

Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

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