APD withholds information from other agencies - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

APD withholds information from other agencies

July 26, 2007

Albany  -- The Albany Police Chief blocked access to investigative reports from the very office that prosecutes those cases.

Through open records requests,  WALB learned that APD banned investigators, attorneys, and victims advocates at the District Attorney's office from viewing case files. Documents also show the D.A.'s sometimes did not get police reports within 30 or even 90 days.

That could result in defendants being set free on bond, because they weren't indicted in quickly enough. This information comes on top of communication problems with the SWAT team that records show were first brought to the Albany Chief's attention months ago.    

Exactly how bad are the communication problems between the Albany Police department and other law enforcement agencies? Apparently, recent problems with SWAT aren't the only issues that are cause for concern.

The failure to communicate is not new. In January of this year, D. A. Ken Hodges was notified that his office was no longer able to computer access critical APD police reports.  "The access was cut off by APD unilaterally, without any consulting with us about what would happen," said Hodges.

As addressed in a memo to Hodges by one of his employees, the system is essential to the D. A.'s office, and necessary to identify how many times a defendant had been arrested or accused of a particular crime.

It's also necessary to locate transient witnesses and to access reports that have not been provided to the D.A.'s office in a timely manner by officers. If they aren't indicted within 90 days, per Georgia law, they're entitled to bond.  "I can't think of a valid reason why any law enforcement agency would block the district attorney's office from having access to these files in a pending investigation," the district attorney says.

That access was later restored, after Hodges met with City Manager Alfred Lott.

And then there are concerns over the Albany SWAT team. In May, Hodges sent SWAT commander Mack Green an email asking why two of his investigators were denied the opportunity to try out for the team. "I knew the SWAT numbers were low and I thought that was a public safety issue for both the community and for the officers."

One of those investigators, Billy Byrd, is a 13-year law enforcement veteran, a former Secret Service agent, who served as a firearms instructor and a certified EMT. The other, Jason Armstrong, has seven years in law enforcement, including employment with the Albany Police Department as a training officer.

In an email reply on June 1st, Green told Hodges that Chief Younger would not let those investigators try out.  "I offered both of them to APD to serve on the SWAT team and that offer was denied."

Only after issues with the SWAT team were known, was an invitation extended.  "Once this issue became public, a memo was sent to me indicating that they could try out."

But Hodges says until the problems are resolved, he doesn't want his investigators on the team.  "I opted not to have my men participate in a unit that's going to be controlled by Chief Younger. If we engage in a regional and multi-agency SWAT team, I would certainly reconsider that."

Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek says he too has had communication issues with APD Chief Younger for the past year.  "I think it's been an ongoing problem, and there were some issues that I had tried to address from June of last year," Cheek said.

Specifically about SWAT members and policy upgrades.  "It's taken a number of other issues. This policy change we requested, to sit down and talk about policy and inclusion of other agencies, and talk about a different way to structure the team," Cheek said. "I think the more involvement with the more agencies we've got, the better. There is room to build this team back up."

Ken Hodges said that timely information on suspects from police is vital. "If they're not indicted within 90 days, they're entitled to a bond as a matter of law, no matter how horrific their record is, no matter how much of a flight risk they are, no matter how serious the risk is to the community."

The D.A. says citizens need to be engaged. "It will be up to the public and the city commissioners and the city manager. It's ultimately the city manager's call, as to whether the police Chief stays. The public needs to become engaged in the process and if they have concerns at all about public safety, they need to air those concerns. We've got to have cooperation and we've got to have communication."    

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