Many Atlanta police officers lacked authority to make arrests

The Atlanta Police Department has determined that at least 50 officers did not have the proper authority to make arrests due to incomplete training. Arrests made by these officers go back several decades and could have wide-spread repercussions for past convictions and pending criminal charges.

Since 1990, police officers have been required by state law to complete at least 20 hours of ongoing training every year. This training now includes topics ranging from firearms usage to computer software instruction.

The officer’s lack of authority to make arrests was discovered when police academy staff reviewed the records of officers returning to duty. This sparked a review of all of Atlanta’s sworn officers. The department explained that a full review will not be completed until mid-September. The department anticipates identifying more officers who have not completed the required training as the review progresses.

It is not yet known how many arrests or convictions may be affected by the lack of certification. The Fulton County District Attorney says that convictions will not automatically be overturned because of the expiration of the officers’ certification. Cases will need to be reviewed on an individual basis to determine what consequence the apparently illegal arrest will have on the charges or conviction.

In criminal cases, deference is often given to the reliability and authority of police officers. Criminal juries may be inclined to assume that the police have dotted all of their i’s and crossed all their t’s. It is troubling to learn that many Atlanta police officers did not follow state requirements and as a result were not legally authorized to make arrests.

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution “APD officers without arrest powers may have jeopardized cases” Rhonda Cook, Aug. 18, 2011