The City Council at its meeting Wednesday approved changes to 15 standard operating procedures for child abuse cases, car chases, criminal investigations, missing persons and other police matters.
Major Steve Kish said the 2011 murder of Jorelys Rivera, 7, whose case the Canton police force mishandled according to an official report by LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar, influenced a change in Marietta.
“That prompted a lot of agencies to revisit their missing persons policy,” said Kish, who is in charge of the Marietta police’s office of professional standards.
Unsolved cases are getting an extra layer of paperwork, but Kish said it can help uncover new clues.
“We determined we would do a follow-up form letter to all persons involved,” he said. “It helps our relationship with the victim’s family. We’re already calling them, but we didn’t have a letter. It also reminds the family to call us if they have any new information.”
Illegal drugs used as evidence can now be brought to the GBI forensics lab in Decatur by any officer, not just a detective as previously assigned.
“It includes all police officers in the agency,” Kish said about sworn officers, which include patrol cops, probation officers and detectives.
Any of them can provide security for the shipment.
“We wanted to make sure it was an armed police officer that was taking it out there,” Kish said. “If there are drugs, it’s a large drop. There have been cases when there have been over $50,000 in street value taken to the lab. That’s not normal, but there have been occasions.”
Detective Christopher Weaver said originally detectives were tapped because they were carrying other evidence like murder weapons.
“If we’re going down there anyway, we’ll take a box,” he said.
When detectives were the only ones authorized, the regulation often interrupted their work on a case.
“To drop what you’re doing to make the trip, driving down I-75 and getting on the Connector, you can get tied up in some serious traffic,” Weaver said.
Now cases may be solved — and prosecuted — faster.
“The change is officers are available to go there without interrupting their schedule,” Weaver said. “It helps us out. It gets the evidence there quicker. The D.A.’s office likes it.”
Before turning on lights and sirens, police can only chase a perpetrator’s car if murder, kidnapping, rape or other violent crime is suspected. Previously, the department allowed officers to decide if there was the “threat of death or serious bodily injury” if the perpetrator wasn’t caught.
“It was too subjective,” Kish said. “Previously, you could say, ‘When I pulled him over for a traffic stop and he fled, then he created an imminent threat.’”
This means cops will not give chase for lesser offenses.
“You have to weigh the need to catch the bad guy with the danger that you’re placing yourself, the suspect and the general public in when you’re involved in a pursuit,” Kish said.
Child abuse inquiries have been streamlined so uniform officers do advance work for the detective who takes the case.
“The officer just gets the basic information,” Kish said about names, ages, addresses and phone numbers. “The child crime investigator should be doing a forensic interview with children that are victims of abuse because they have special training.”
Not doing this can cause a suspect to walk, he said.
“It could jeopardize the case if too much information is garnered by the officer in the initial investigation. It’s better to allow the detective to handle it,” Kish said.
The manual now includes six more steps Detective Mark Erion advocated.
“We had a case come up that went OK, but he felt we should put this into our policy so it’s everyone doing the same thing each time,” Kish said.
The protocol includes making sure the child is safe and comfortable, arranging for a nurse if rape is suspected, getting search warrants if necessary, videotaping victims’ statements and checking suspects’ criminal histories.
“These are all in federal guidelines that have been established for child abuse investigation,” Kish said.
Kish said the manual upgrade makes a reference source available.
“Most of the revisions are common-sense revisions,” he said.
Although the department just got the go-ahead Wednesday, the changes have been in the pipeline for four months.
“It’s not going to negatively impact anyone if we already do it. The police chief can issue a special order to put a revision into immediate effect although it’s going through that process,” Kish said.
Also, now they are enforceable.
“If there’s a violation of the policy prior to it being approved, they cannot be disciplined for that,” Kish said.
They also satisfy the state and federal authorities who oversee the city standards.
“We need to make sure we’re maintaining the highest standards possible because we have people inspecting us once every three years,” Kish said.