Bottoms confident in new public safety efforts following violent year

Facing questions about how Atlanta can avoid a repeat of last year’s high homicide rate, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Thursday she is confident new public safety initiatives can help curb the recent rise in violent crime.

During a virtual press briefing, Bottoms said she will be able to take on a new voluntary role with the Democratic National Committee while also serving as mayor during a turbulent time for crime and public health in the city. President Joe Biden’s administration, she said, could be a boon to the city following a year that recorded the most homicides in more than two decades.

While serious crime dropped overall, Atlanta saw 157 homicides last year, a 58% increase from 2019. Since last summer, residents and officials have grown increasingly frustrated about the rising homicide and aggravated assault numbers, leading some to criticize Bottoms’ leadership.

During the briefing, Bottoms cited her administration’s new initiatives to expand the “Operation Shield” surveillance camera network used to monitor the streets, and her work to combat “nuisance properties” that the city has said are hotspots for violent crime.

Atlanta Police Department interim Chief Rodney Bryant said during the briefing that the agency is submitting a 90-day plan to the mayor this week aimed at homicide prevention. APD also plans to rejoin several regional crime-fighting task forces.

“I’m certain and confident that these different collaborations ... will bring the resources needed to address the numbers that we’ve seen,” Bryant said.

The rise in violent crime has contributed to a renewed push by residents in Buckhead to consider breaking away from Atlanta and forming their own city. In a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday night, members of the Buckhead Exploratory Committee said the rise in homicides is a central reason they want to research the feasibility of Buckhead seceding from Atlanta.

Some business leaders in Buckhead and city officials, including Bottoms, are against that idea. Asked about crime concerns there, Bottoms said Buckhead has always been an important part of Atlanta, and said working together with Buckhead communities to fight crime would be more productive.

“I am working with leaders in the Buckhead Coalition to … make sure we can respond to crime,” she said. “People can travel across geographic lines. They do it each day. A number of issues we have had in the city of Atlanta, as we know, come from people traveling from out of state, so establishing another city is not going to address that issue.”

Bottoms also addressed police department recruitment after dozens of officers left the force last summer.

“Ideally we would have more officers, but I do know that we have enough officers to cover our city,” Bottoms said. Some officers who left the department last year in the wake of protests against police brutality and racial injustice have since returned, she said.

Bryant added that the department has not reached the “critical” low point of officers where it would need to call on other agencies for help.

Asked if she worries that the city’s crime rate could hinder her plans to run for reelection this year, she said she understands she may face negative news stories surrounding crime, but she’s not taking anything for granted amid the troubling homicide numbers.

“It’s something I continue to focus on and take very seriously, not for purposes of reelection, but because this is my city,” said Bottoms, who has not officially announced a reelection campaign. “The care and concern I have about crime in this city extends far beyond any race that I’ll be a part of.”

The mayor said she is expecting a “real race” and is proud of her record as the city’s leader for the last three years.

“I do not assume that the rest of Atlanta thinks that, and I know that I’m going to have to prove myself to everybody who will show up to vote,” Bottoms said.

Biden nominated Bottoms to serve as the DNC’s vice chair of civic engagement and voter protection last week. Bottoms, an early ally of Biden when he was running for office, said the role would be voluntary. Asked about juggling the two jobs, she pointed out that many Atlanta business leaders also volunteer with various organizations in addition to their day jobs.

“You should not want a mayor who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time,” Bottoms said. “I think that this really speaks to the value seen of Atlanta on the national stage, that I have been invited to serve in this role.”

Other announcements included the hiring of a new Atlanta fire department chief — Rod Smith, currently a deputy chief, will take over for Randall Slaughter, who is retiring.