Amid crime wave, Bottoms makes public safety pitch with new working group

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at a press conference at the Atlanta Public Safety Headquarters on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at a press conference at the Atlanta Public Safety Headquarters on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced Tuesday the creation of a new working group to provide recommendations for reducing crime amid a spike in homicides and gun violence in the city.

The members of the group, who have not been announced, will provide feedback in the next 30 to 45 days on “what more we can possibly do” in the short term to address crime, Bottoms said at a press conference.

The announcement followed a string of weekend shootings that left a 15-year-old girl and 22-year-old man dead and several others injured. Six months out from an election, Bottoms is facing criticism over her handling of public safety issues as the number of killings in the city continues to rise.

Atlanta police have investigated 44 homicides this year, a 60% increase from this time in 2020.

“You can say what you want to say about what you believe to be my deficits. People are entitled to their opinion. But don’t ever question whether or not I care,” Bottoms said.

Georgia State University professor emeritus of criminal justice Robert Friedmann, founding director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, said that

while such panels can be “productive,” he doubts any group can solve Atlanta’s crime problem.

Friedmann, who has served on numerous blue ribbon commissions, including the group formed to bolster Fulton Courthouse security after a gunman killed three people there in 2005, said it’s hard to comment on the mayor’s group without knowing who is on it.

“The real challenge is the complexity of violent crime causation coupled with the deterioration of police and reduction of police deterrent image. I wish the group success,” Friedmann said.

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

The mayor also touted several of the city’s recent public safety initiatives, including new license plate-reading cameras, enhanced police recruitment and a summer program that aims to give jobs to 1,000 young people.

“If there’s more we can do, I’m asking this working group to give us recommendations,” Bottoms said, adding that the working group will also provide suggestions for long-term solutions within three months.

Bottoms also announced at the press conference she is naming interim police chief Rodney Bryant as permanent chief, and asked the City Council to approve that appointment.

The mayor is running for reelection and facing challenges from City Council President Felicia Moore and attorney Sharon A. Gay.

Moore said in a statement that “another Taskforce is like another plan.”

“Atlanta can’t wait any longer. What we need is daily updates from the administration as to how escalating crime is being managed. Bottom line, we need Atlantans to know how the APD plans to keep them safe today,” Moore said in a statement.

Gay lauded the mayor’s efforts in a released statement, but the attorney said the city needs stronger leadership.

“On the theory that something is better than nothing, I am glad the mayor is planning to do something, even if it is just to bring together an unnamed group of people for 30 to 45 days to talk about crime and public safety in today’s Atlanta. However, there should have been strong, focused leadership and a comprehensive plan and strategy in place over a year ago,” Gay said in a statement.

Councilman Antonio Brown, who is also considering a run against Bottoms this year, said he is tired of the city convening public safety-related task forces.

“I think one of the biggest struggles we have in this city is that there’s no clear direction on how to move forward,” said Brown, who also said he doesn’t support confirming Bryant as permanent chief.

Buckhead Coalition President Jim Durrett said he looks forward to discussing the specifics of the working group with Bottoms and the City Council.

“However, time is of the essence, and there must be action now,” Durrett, who also leads the Buckhead Community Improvement District, said in a statement. “Clearly, there needs to be accountability for the crisis of violent crime that Buckhead and other neighborhoods are experiencing. But if there is a task force, it must be transparent and independent, with expertise in public safety.”

Kimberly Scott, a West End resident and the former chair of the Neighborhood Planning Unit for that area, said Bryant has proposed some good ideas for public safety initiatives. Bryant used to be the commander for her zone and she supports his promotion to permanent chief.

“I do believe that that task force probably should have been created some time ago last year when the pandemic first started,” said Scott, who stepped down as NPU chair earlier this year to launch a run for City Council. “There is a sense of urgency for us.”

Bottoms’ predecessor, Mayor Kasim Reed, spoke out about the crime wave in a radio interview last week. Reed said “the level of crime and violence is just at unacceptable levels and it’s fracturing our city in a way that I haven’t seen in my lifetime.”

Bottoms said at the press conference that the frequency of shootings in the city is a result of “too many guns on our street and too many people in our communities who don’t have regard for basic human life.”

She urged state lawmakers to change Georgia’s gun laws to strengthen background checks and remove loopholes.

“Until our state leaders take a look at the most lax gun laws that we have in this country,” Bottoms said, “this likely will not be the last time I stand here.”