ATLANTA – A bill to let local voters decide whether to abolish the scandal-plagued Glynn County Police Department has gone to Gov. Brian Kemp for his approval or veto, having gained support in the Georgia Legislature after the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.
The state House voted 159-3 on Monday to approve Senate Bill 504, creating a nonbinding advisory referendum on whether to abolish the department and hand its law enforcement responsibilities back to the elected county sheriff in unincorporated parts of the coastal Georgia county.
A separate measure that would make the referendum binding passed the House on Friday by a vote of 152-3 and is pending before the Senate. If that also passes in the waning days of this legislative session, it would fall to Kemp to decide how much power to give the county’s voters to decide the issue in November.
Glynn County commissioners oppose both measures, saying two local Republican lawmakers are trying to help their political ally, Sheriff Neal Jump.
Arbery was fatally shot on Feb. 23 when a father and son armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-old man running in their neighborhood. More than two months passed before Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. Arrests came after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local prosecutors.
Efforts to abolish the department had been progressing, albeit more slowly, before Arbery was shot, motivated by a series of scandals.
The police chief and three former high-ranking officers were indicted in March on charges that they ignored an officer consorting with a drug dealer. A Glynn County narcotics officer was found to have been having sex with two confidential informants. There have been claims of unjustified shootings by the department’s officers.
Glynn County Chairman Mike Browning and most of his fellow commissioners have stood by the department nevertheless.
“To use the death of this young man, to invoke the name of Ahmaud Arbery, who was gunned down while running down a street, to play on the emotions of everyone in the House and the Senate has brought us to a new low in the state of Georgia,” Browning told The Brunswick News.
If voters, in the end, do decide to vote in favor of abolishing the Glynn County Police Department, the transition into a sheriff’s office would begin. But a senator told News4Jax it would be gradual -- it would have to happen by next July.
News4Jax reporter Ashley Harding contributed to this report.