Judge keeps police radars on

Service delivery fight won’t hinder speeder detection

— Because of a judge’s intervention, five city police departments in Clayton County were able to avoid a scenario they dreaded.

They won’t lose their ability to use radar guns to catch speeders because of the ongoing service delivery strategy and Local Option Sales Tax battle between Clayton County and its municipalities. Under state law, state-issued permits can’t be issued to a law enforcement agency whose parent government does not have a service delivery strategy in place.

The last service delivery agreement between Clayton County and its cities expired in October 2011. The Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lake City, Morrow and Riverdale police departments had state-issued speed detection device permits which were set to expire Dec. 31.

However, officials from several cities and the state said a Clayton County Superior Court judge issued a temporary stay of the sanctions two weeks ago that gave the police departments until Jan. 31, 2013, to renew their permits for three years.

“A court order signed by a Clayton Superior Court judge essentially ordered the sanctions associated with the lack of an approved SDS plan be held in abeyance temporarily,” said Angie Holt, director of the department of public safety’s Office of Professional Standards. “As a result of that order, Georgia Department of Public Safety was able to process renewal applications for [five] police agencies in Clayton County.

“These permits were renewed and should expire Dec. 31, 2015.”

The service delivery issue has been slowly building to a showdown in court between the county and the cities. They tried separate court-ordered mediations for service delivery and LOST but they proved to be unsuccessful. The cities have opted to negotiate service delivery and LOST together in a bid to strengthen their bargaining position.

With the failure of mediation, the two sides were on the path towards suing each other until both sides agreed to try negotiations again on Dec. 19. Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said the cities and the county agreed at the last minute to a 90-day extension of the mediation period where service delivery and LOST will be jointly negotiated.

Eady and representatives from other cities have said the two sides also agreed to several stipulations. Those stipulations include a requirement that incoming Clayton County commission Chairman Jeff Turner be involved when negotiations are restarted. Turner and incoming District 3 Commissioner Shana Rooks will join the county commission Jan. 1.

“We wanted to give the incoming commissioners a chance to sit down at the negotiating table with us before we took this to court,” Eady said.

The county also had to promise to not block efforts by Lovejoy to get its first-ever speed detection device permit and the county also had to agree to put off a decision to end fire services in the county’s southernmost city, Eady added.

Without the permits, those five police departments would have lost their ability to use any device that allows them to check how fast a vehicle is traveling through their respective jurisdictions.

County officials had suggested police use pacing, which is a technique where officers use the speedometers in their patrol cars to guess how fast another vehicle is moving. However, municipal law enforcement officials consider that technique to be imperfect and difficult to support in a court of law.

“Once we got word that the judge had granted a temporary stay of the sanctions, we all rushed down to there [to the Georgia Department of Public Safety office] immediately to file our renewal paperwork,” said Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt.

While some police departments are able to renew their radar permits now, one department is still trying to get its own permit approved. Lovejoy’s police department has never had a speed detection device permit since being established in March 2010, but it has been working to address that issue. But, Holt said, Georgia Department of Public Safety records show the city has still not been issued a permit.

The permits for College Park and Clayton County police, as well as the county’s sheriff’s office, are not up for renewal until Dec. 31, 2013, Holt added.