GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. – It wasn’t long after Georgia State Senator William Ligon first introduced Senate Bill 504 that a grand jury indicted Glynn County Police Chief, John Powell, along with three others. Records showed charges stemmed from an alleged cover-up involving a former narcotics investigator.
Senate Bill 504 calls for a referendum to be added to the November ballot, allowing voters to decide if the Glynn County Board of Commissioners should abolish the Glynn County Police Department. Ligon said compromising incidents go back years.
"There have been issues with the department throughout the years in our county," Ligon said. "The grand jury felt there was a culture of cover-up and a lack of transparency."
For that reason, Ligon feels the department's future should be left to Glynn County voters. If a referendum was placed on the November ballot, and voters gave the green light, Glynn County would join the majority of Georgia counties whose investigations operate under a sheriff's office, instead of a county police department.
As things currently stand, the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office is in charge of jail operations, courthouse security, etc. If this bill passed and voters decided to abolish the Glynn County police department, the sheriff's office would then take over investigative responsibilities once held by the police department.
News4jax reporter Ashley Harding asked Senator Ligon about the handling of the Ahmaud Arbery investigation, which some have said is questionable. Ligon says the Arbery case puts an additional spotlight on issues he's heard for years.
"There's the fact that this case should have immediately been referred to the GBI," Ligon said. "As we saw, there was an arrest within 2 days. So it's just part of the ongoing concerns that we've had."
Overall, Ligon feels this could lead to more trust in the county's law enforcement.
"The thought is, well, if we go to a system that, where the voters elect a sheriff, that there are more transparency and accountability and care for these issues," Ligon said.
Ligon told News4Jax the goal is for Georgia lawmakers to return to the state capitol in mid-June. When that happens, he said he anticipates senators to vote in favor of SB 504. From there, the Georgia House would make its considerations.
Senator Ligon said if citizens vote “yes” on his bill in November, the transition from the police department, to the sheriff’s office, would need to happen by July 2021.
News4Jax waited several days for the Glynn County Police Department to return requests for comment on this story. We have not received a response back.