WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Monday night, the Warner Robins mayor and council separated the Warner Robins Municipal Court from the Warner Robins Police Department.
Georgia Municipal Association recommends all Municipal Courts be separate from police departments.
The Warner Robins Police Chief and Warner Robins Mayor agree with the recommendation.
Police Chief John Wagner says he has wanted to separate his department from Municipal Court for a long time.
"We've talked about it for years. When I first spoke to the mayor, right after she was elected, we had some meetings. Our very first conversation was about separating the court," Wagner said.
With this change, he says, the officers writing the citations won't be the ones running the courtroom.
"When we get into court, we are our own separate entity. The court is their own entity," Wagner said. "They make their decisions by themselves. Have they already been doing it? Yes. But still, there is a tether there, and we are breaking that tether; and now, no one can say any shenanigans going on our backhanded deals."
The change means you won't see police officers in court as bailiffs.
"I'm not going to get any extra persons, but I am going to get a little bit more manhours out there. I think it would be a good job for a part-time law enforcement officer," Wagner said.
The city will also have to look for a Municipal Court prosecutor.
There will be no procedural changes.
Wednesdays will be the city's plea days, and Thursdays will be trail days.
The judge will stay the same.
"Just changing the titles and moving them to their own leg of the government," Lashley said.
Mayor LaRhonda Patrick says it eliminates a conflict of interest.
"Stories and cases have come up across our country, showing that municipalities have abused their powers in some places, which brought light to the fact that we need to make sure we are separate from the police officers," Patrick said.
Mayor Patrick also said it's a great move because it "eliminates the vision that the city is using the court as a source of revenue."
"The Municipal Court is not a revenue source. It is not to be a revenue source towards operations," Patrick said. "Of course, municipalities make money off of what's done inside their municipal court, their city court, but it is not to be handled as something that makes money for operations."
"It doesn't go against the grain of anything anymore, so I think this is a good thing," Chief Wagner said.
Since the council agreed to the ordinance, City Code Chapter 15 will identify Municipal Court as a standalone division.
Wagner said they've added a technology fee to citations.
If a jury finds you guilty, you will see an additional $15 technology fee applied to each violation.
Wagner says the fee goes towards "taking care of hardware, software, and computers in the court."
The separation takes effect August 1st.
In the upcoming weeks, Warner Robins City Clerk Mandy Stella says the city will "create a couple of new positions for it, too."
They already have "judges and a solicitor."
Some of their other agenda items include: Agreeing to a contract for a city center and making Bill Mulkey a part-time consultant for the city.
Mulkey retired from the Building and Transportation Department on Friday.
The city wants his expertise in reviewing rezoning plans and code enforcement documents.
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