News 3 Special Report: Disciplined Columbus Cops - WRBL

News 3 Special Report: Disciplined Columbus Cops

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Documents obtained by News 3 show more than a dozen Columbus police officers have been terminated since 2009.  Last year alone, there were 93 officers disciplined. 

"We hold our officers to a higher standard and we expect them to maintain those standards," says Major Lem Miller.

Miller is in charge of the Office of Professional Standards with the Columbus Police Department. The cases he investigates come straight from the chief's office and he says they are more serious in nature.

He says they typically result in an officer being terminated or suspended. So far this year, Miller says he has had eight cases. He says he averages 14 a year.

"In 2009, we had a streak of bad luck because we had two or three officers who were actually arrested by the FBI and it was because of insurance fraud. We had one that was involved in a bank robbery, and that was before she was hired down here. We had the officer who was dealing in some drug selling, Officer Larry Lightning, he was sentenced to the federal penitentiary," says Miller.

Records also show that 2009 was the year six officers were terminated and 33 resigned, seven of those resignations came while the officers were being investigated.

Miller says he would contribute any spike in the number of violations to the hiring of the 100 new officers.

In 2008, Columbus citizens approved a one-cent Local Options Sales Tax to help raise money for the Public Safety Department. The city went from 388 officers to 488.

Records also show that in 2009 and 2011, more than 100 officers violated policies. They range from minor infractions- like "reporting late to duty," all the way to more serious violations- like "transport of alcohol by police vehicle" and "failure to log evidence."

"We had an officer who answered a call regarding a little shootout that occurred between some apparent gang bangers at a local service station, and the clerk called it in and by the time the officers got there the people responsible for that had left scene. However, there were some shell casings left on the pavement, well this officer, he took the shell casings and actually disposed of them by throwing them in the bushes," says Miller.

There are three high profile cases involving Columbus police officers that are currently pending with the District Attorney's Office. One of them involves former Officer David Ricker who resigned after being accused of being intoxicated while on duty. Another is Officer Vincent Lockhart, Jr., who has been on paid administrative leave for the past year and a half after shooting and killing a man during a bank robbery. District Attorney Julia Slater later deemed that man innocent.

And Officer Kelly MacDonnell is also on paid administrative leave after striking and killing a young woman with his cruiser as she crossed the street on North Lumpkin Road last year.

"I strive for perfection with our law enforcement agency knowing somehow we will fall short," says Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

Tomlinson is not only the city's Chief Executive of government but is also the Director of Public Safety.

She says the disciplinary reports her office gave to News 3 shows that officers are being watched very closely. Tomlinson concedes that in the past, those who have been terminated have been hired by other departments within the city. She says that happened before she was mayor. 

Major Miller says regardless if that's the case, the officers status is reported to Georgia's Peace Officer Standards and Training Council and it affects their certification as an officer.

With a population size of 190,000, we wanted to see how Columbus stacks up against a similar sized city.

The city of Augusta has a population size of 200,000. According to the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, they have 647 current deputies and jailers. In 2009, 50 deputies either resigned and/ or were dismissed from the department. That's 18 less than the 68 that resigned and/or were terminated in 2011 and 2012. And so far this year, 13 deputies have resigned and/or been terminated from the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

Our calls to District Attorney Julia Slater in reference to this story were not returned.

Sarah Panko

Sarah is the anchor/ producer for News Three First Edition at 5/4 central time. She also brings you the latest Consumer Reports on the Nightwatch at 11/10 central. More>>

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