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26 Atlanta police officers listed as suspended

ATLANTA (AP) - Twenty-six Atlanta police officers have been suspended from the force, including 17 who are continuing to be paid, according to a newspaper report Sunday.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had requested a list of suspended officers, some facing serious charges including sexual assault, felony domestic battery, aggravated assault and murder. The 17 who continue to earn paychecks have not been charged with crimes and mostly work administrative duty without a badge and gun.

The list comes at a time when high-profile crimes and a shortage of officers on Atlanta's streets have become hot-button issues, prompting a new crime-fighting plan announced last week by Mayor Shirley Franklin and Police Chief Richard Pennington.

The cumulative amount of pay the 17 suspended officers have received - about 290 months' worth of salary - could put at least 24 officers on the street for a year, the newspaper reported. Atlanta has about 1,600 officers.

Maj. Lane Hagin, commander of Atlanta's internal affairs unit, said investigators try to complete probes into suspended officers within 90 days.

"But due to the number of complaints, that's not always possible," he said.

Officer Wayne Longe was suspended in 2004 after a woman claimed he forced her to have sex in the back of his patrol car after arresting her.

Four years later, Longe was indicted on a felony charge of sexual assault against a person in custody. He continued to receive pay during those four years before he was indicted. His attorney said Longe acknowledged having sex with the woman while on duty, but that it was consensual and occurred after he gave her a ticket for public drinking.

Lengthy suspensions such as Longe's are not unusual in the Atlanta Police Department. Six officers who were suspended after a 2006 shooting incident remain off the job with pay even though federal and state authorities have determined five of them will not be charged with crimes.

When officers face criminal charges, the department usually waits for the case to run its course through the judicial system before acting, Hagin said. If there's a guilty verdict, the officer is dismissed. If a criminal case is dismissed or an officer found not guilty, the department would then proceed toward punishing, firing or reinstating the officer.

Steve Rothlein, a retired police officer who now trains departments, said Atlanta's procedure of waiting for a criminal case to conclude is not uncommon.

"If you're not sure about something, you err on the side of caution," said Rothlein, who headed the Miami-Dade Police Departments internal affairs unit. "But you can't wait forever. ... If you're going to fire them, get them off the books and hire somebody else."