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Police: Manhunt marred by poor communication

Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington talks at a Friday news conference.
Atlanta (Georgia)
Richard Pennington
Courthouse shootings

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Atlanta's police chief Friday said last week's deadly courthouse shooting and the subsequent manhunt for a suspect points to the need for improvements in communications and leadership protocol during emergencies.

Richard Pennington, speaking at a press conference at which Atlanta police released a timeline of initial responses to the incident, praised coordination and information-sharing among law enforcement agencies and businesses. He also commended his police officers and the media for their work in the manhunt. (Minute-by-minute timeline)

He said, however, that improvements needed to be made.

Last Friday, police said, Brian Nichols shot and killed a judge, a court reporter and a deputy with a gun he stole from another deputy, who was wounded.

The suspect fled the courthouse and a manhunt started. Authorities said Nichols also killed a federal customs agent, whose body was discovered Saturday.

Nichols, who had been undergoing retrial on a rape charge, gave himself up Saturday after a woman he apparently was holding hostage called police.

"He eluded us for a long period of time," Pennington said.

"As you know, many of the law enforcement agencies in Atlanta are not on the same radio frequency," he said. "And so that posed a problem for us at some point. So that meant that we had to contact some of the law enforcement agencies via cell phone or via regular telephone communications."

The police chief said it will be important to explore improvements on sharing communications and "be on the same frequency" when incidents occur.

He talked about using "plain talk" rather than codes, which are different from agency to agency. Pennington said he has a team studying "plain talk" processes.

Pennington said the department will investigate the events.

"It's important for us to go back and do an out-to-action report," he said, talking about looking at radio transmissions and emergency calls.

He said he and Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman will work together in determining what happened and what improvements need to be made.

The failure of police and deputies to capture the man has sparked controversy and outrage, including criticism of the lack of communication between law enforcement agencies.

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