County commission to act on transfer of sheriff's units

By Justin Boron

For the second time in three weeks, the county commission is scheduled to act on a contentious proposal that would transfer two Sheriff's Department investigative units to county police supervision.

The move would come only seven weeks before Sheriff-elect Victor Hill takes office.

The commission was set to act on the transfer of the crime scene investigations unit and narcotics unit on Nov. 2.

But Sheriff-elect Victor Hill received emergency injunctive relief, which erupted a three-week long controversy over the current administration's right to narrow the authority of the Sheriff's Department before the sheriff-elect officially enters office.

Senior Superior Court Judge Byron Smith quashed the upheaval Friday when he ruled that the judiciary had no right to adjudicate on legislation while it is being enacted.

In his order, he lifted the injunction, allowing the commission to return to the item at today's meeting.

How the transfer will affect operations is still unclear.

Hill has said moving the narcotics and crime scene units would cause jurisdictional conflicts.

He said Sheriff's deputies can enter municipalities, but county police will have problems operating outside of their jurisdiction without being deputized by a sheriff.

But County Attorney Don Comer said even if jurisdiction blocks a county police officer from operating in municipalities, an intergovernmental agreement with an incorporated city could remove the hindrance.

Another possible glitch resulting from the transfer could come from a federal appeals court ruling in 2003, which said county sheriffs are immune from civil rights lawsuits.

The Fulton County Daily Report described the ruling, saying, "Georgia's county sheriffs are state actors entitled to immunity from civil rights suits."

The decision swirled speculation over whether other law enforcement bodies, like the county police, would receive similar immunity.

If not, the county police could be exposed to civil rights lawsuits coming from any potential infringements made in crime scene investigation.

Despite the murky legal possibilities, the county police department said the motivation for the proposed transfer stems from a need to streamline operations.

"By the unit being under the same roof as our investigators, we feel that the problems that we've encountered in the past by having to pass crime scene information from one department to another will be resolved," said Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner.

Other business for the meeting includes "a fine tuning" of C-TRAN routes for the next year, said Richard Bray, director of the bus service.

The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which operates the bus service, recommended that the existing route 501 be split into three new routes.

One splinter from route 501 would be service for areas south and east of the airport.

Another new route would cover the existing service from the Justice Center through Morrow, Lake City, and Forest Park.

The third offshoot, Route 502, would cover the Southlake Parkway branch of the existing route 501.

The proposed changes would save more than $130,000 for the year 2006, according to a C-TRAN evaluation of the current bus service.