By Steve Pomper
Training academies and law enforcement agencies pound into their cops they should avoid even the appearance of impropriety. I remember my department wrestling with the issue, trying to decide what constitutes a gratuity or an abuse of office.
Law enforcement agencies have to consider if accepting a free or discounted cup of coffee does more damage than refusing and possibly insulting the store owner or the customer buying an officer a cup o’ Joe. Obviously, the value of the gratuity has a lot to do with it.
We had one pro-public safety supporter who continually loaded a Tully’s Coffee gift card for cops and firefighters. She continued that kind gesture for a few years. This did not violate department policy, but something like accepting free or discounted dry cleaning did (unless the discount applied to everyone). So, you can see the fog that can occur.
But sometimes the issue is as clear as a sunny day, especially when we’re talking about way more than a cup of coffee—say, something like a luxury SUV—or two. Cops know what would happen to a rank-and-file officer caught accepting any gratuity in violation of department policy. But what about gratuities in the highest offices in the hallowed halls of city power? And what if the gratuity wasn’t given, but the official had helped him or herself to it?
While rank and file officers must comply with department gratuity and abuse of office policies daily, what about their city leaders? Are their mayors avoiding even the appearance of impropriety? And what if the gratuities are coming out of city coffers? More specifically, what if the official is misappropriating funds meant for the police department’s rank-and-file?
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms used city funds to purchase two luxury SUVs, GMC Denalis with which her Atlanta P.D. protection unit chauffeurs her around the city.
The vehicles combined cost was $175,000. By city charter, the mayor cannot spend more than $100,000 without city council approval. Allegedly, Mayor Bottoms sidestepped the Atlanta City Council, who’d allocated $2.6 million for some 90 new vehicles for the police department’s detectives and patrol officers. The council did not include Denalis on the list of vehicles it authorized for purchase.
The mayor’s SUVs were top of the line. Aside from advanced communication and emergency operations systems, the vehicles were equipped with the “ultimate package.” This upgrade included specialty rims, chrome add-ons, premium floor mats, and perforated leather seats. It seems nothing was too good for Her Honor. After all, she deserved it, and she was going to treat herself right.
Victor Hartman, an attorney, fraud expert, and author of the book The Honest Truth about Fraud, told the AJC that while “he doesn’t consider the vehicles inappropriate for the mayor … the purchase violated the [city] charter …” and “it’s not good governance and lacks transparency.”
This alleged misuse of funds by Mayor Bottoms is no surprise to police officers who know her as, as the Independent Sentinel called her, the “Democrat [Socialist] mayor of Atlanta.” Her anti-rule-of-law views are well known to the city’s cops. In June 2018, Mayor Bottoms “ordered the city’s jails to refuse new ICE detainees.” But it seems her virtue signaling doesn’t extend to being driven around the city in a powder blue Toyota Prius or mint green Nissan Leaf.
Maybe it’s something in the water. Mayor Bottom’s predecessor, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim, was accused of having his protection unit (Atlanta police officers assigned to the Executive Protection Unit (EPU)) “routinely use city-issued credit cards to pick up thousands of dollars in fast food and dry cleaning… despite clear policy forbidding any use of the cards for personal purchases.” During a two-year portion of his tenure, he reportedly made purchases of goods and services for over $90,000.
While many people think it’s just fine to hold police officers to impossible standards, those same people continue to vote for anti-police politicians who wouldn’t last a day as a cop. I’m not even talking about having to endure the battery of physical, mental, and psychological exams, demanding training, and running a gauntlet of vetting. I’m talking about the probability of them not only appearing but also achieving impropriety seems to be so firmly embedded within Atlanta’s recent mayoral DNA it would be impossible for them not to succumb to abusing their offices.
A politician raiding the municipal cookie jar, sadly, is not news, but it’s still wrong. But the wrong is increased when the funds are nicked from a city’s public safety department. Atlanta mayors used to be driven around in modest sedans, similar to what patrol officers drive. Many people are getting tired of city politicians more concerned with appearing virtuous and “woke,” on the outside while on the inside their concern seems more for their own comfort and personal aggrandizement.
But if the people continue to vote for anti-police candidates, their quality of life will continue to degrade, and their police officers will continue to be exploited for political gain. The cops will continue to suffer the liabilities of the job with very few commensurate benefits. For how long can any city maintain such an unsustainable status?