Georgia House Passes Bill Letting Voters Dissolve County Police Departments

The Georgia House passed a bill Friday that will allow voters the opportunity to dissolve county police departments.

The bill amends the Georgia Code in order to "provide a method for the abolition of a county police department and 3 returning the law enforcement functions of such department to the sheriff of the county," according to the bill's text. If this law goes into effect, voters will get to decide via a referendum whether or not they wish to disband their county police departments.

If the voters choose to eliminate their county police department, "the county police department shall be abolished 180 days following such referendum. At such time, all property, equipment, records, documents, funds, and other items in the possession or control of the county police department shall be transferred to the sheriff of the county."

The vote comes after Georgians protested for justice over the February 23 death of Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery was allegedly shot by Travis McMichael, who along with his father, Gregory McMichael, chased the 25-year-old in a pickup truck as he ran down a road in Brunswick, Georgia. Footage of the incident was shared with a local radio station in May and quickly went viral.

Gregory McMichael, a retired police officer, told authorities he and his son believed Arbery may have committed burglary in the area, and surveillance footage of a house under construction did record Arbery, and other people on a separate occasion, entering the property prior to the shooting.

The McMichaels were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault on May 7, over two months after the shooting, and only after the case was taken over by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. William Brian, who recorded the incident, was arrested on May 21 and charged with murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

The Glynn County Police Department, which took on the case early on, was heavily criticized due to their handling of the case. The new House bill, which passed with bipartisan support with a vote of 152-3, will allow voters the opportunity to abolish the department, as well as other county police departments in the state, and hand over authority to the county sheriff.

Republican state lawmaker Don Hogan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitutional the local police department "should have arrested the McMichaels at the scene, and they did not." Democrat state lawmaker Al Williams said to the Atlanta newspaper "there have been too many missteps over there."

Newsweek reached out to Glynn County for comments on the bill, but they did not respond back in time for publication.

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Demonstrators arrive to protest the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on May 8, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia. A Georgia House bill passed Friday that will allow voters to abolish local police departments. Sean Rayford/Getty