Atlanta mayor addresses crime fighting in 2021 State of the City address

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms gives remarks before receiving her COVID-19 vaccination shot at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium Community Vaccination Center in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms gives remarks before receiving her COVID-19 vaccination shot at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium Community Vaccination Center in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a plan to hire 250 new police officers in the next fiscal year beginning July 1.

The mayor made her remarks during Wednesday’s virtual State of the City Address. The speech was pre-recorded March 23; last year’s address was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bottoms’ speech focused heavily on issues certain to be at the heart of this year’s mayoral election, including her administration’s response to crime, affordable housing, homelessness, the pandemic and the social unrest last summer.

The mayor faces a challenge this year from Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, who has served more than two decades on City Council and has said crime would be her top priority as mayor.

Bottoms said 90 police recruits are currently in the pipeline, and that she is working with the City Council to enact a retention bonus for officers. The department is about 400 officers under its authorized level.

The mayor also said federal money, including dollars from the coronavirus relief package, will be used to fund crime reduction programs and two new centers in southeast and southwest Atlanta to improve community policing efforts.

“Atlanta will get to the other side of this COVID crime wave,” Bottoms said.

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But Moore said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the crime statistics show that Bottoms isn’t focused on reducing crime. Moore didn’t mince words: “Atlanta has a mayor that is more interested in things that happen outside Atlanta and outside Georgia. We need a mayor who knows the number one job of any mayor is to keep our city safe. That’s not our current mayor.”

Additionally, Moore said the 250 officer positions that Bottoms mentioned are already authorized and budgeted, so Moore said there’s no reason this shouldn’t already be done. Hiring more police isn’t a hurdle, Moore said, adding that the city needs to fill all 400 police vacancies.

Bottoms said Atlanta initially saw a 9% decrease in crime last year. But she said things changed when the pandemic took hold: “Our court system effectively shut down, people lost jobs, loved ones died, and our crime began to spike.”

Homicides surged 58% last year.

This year, she said, major cities nationwide reported rises in murders and aggravated assaults. The most notable and recent incident includes the spa shootings that killed eight people, a majority of whom were Asian Americans, Bottoms said.

The mayor called gun violence “a public health emergency.” Bottoms said Atlanta Police officers have arrested 216 people in gun-related incidents since the start of 2021.

A portion of the city’s American Rescue Plan Funds, she said, will support a $5 million commitment to expand Atlanta’s Cure Violence Initiative ― a program meant to address the gun violence between people who know each other.

“This is hard work, and it won’t be easy, but we are up to the task and it will take all of us as a community working together to make a difference,” Bottoms said.

Bottoms pointed out that Atlanta’s network of more than 1,500 cameras and license plate readers have targeted street racing activities, Bottoms said, and the city will commit $3 million in public-private funding to expand that network by 250 cameras over the next fiscal year.

Although Moore applauded the plan laid out by Bottoms, she said the proposed work is incomplete because it lacks efforts to find a new police chief. Moore also said Bottoms’ plan involves incremental changes over the next 12 months even though the city’s crime problem requires immediate action.

Bottoms in her remarks appeared to acknowledge the remaining work ahead, such as efforts in police reform after a year of high-profile police shootings that called for a “change in culture in policing.” She said supporting police and holding officers accountable for improper conduct are not “mutually exclusive.”

Atlanta police, Bottoms said, will receive new de-escalation training. She called current training spaces for public safety personnel “too small, too old and not up to technological standards,” so she pledged to working with business and philanthropic leaders to build a new “top notch training facility.”

“I’m confident that at the end of this work, Atlanta will influence public safety policies across the nation,” she said.

Here are some of the issues the mayor addressed during her speech:

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Atlanta City Detention Center

Bottoms laid out a new vision for the 25-year-old Atlanta City Detention Center, which annually spends millions of tax dollars to house approximately 30 nonviolent offenders a night, she said.

The mayor argued the 500,000 square foot, 17-story building could help address homelessness, addiction and mental health. Reimagining the center’s purpose, she said, would “put our finite resources toward creating wellness and opportunity” for the community.

Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat has said he wants to buy the detention center from the city, and needs approximately $400 million for a new county jail.

Bottoms said she doesn’t think “a center of mass incarceration” should be built “in the heart of downtown.”

Homelessness / Affordable Housing

Since her term began in 2018, Bottoms said, more than $42 million has been invested towards ending homelessness, and nearly $500 million in public funds have been used to create or preserve affordable housing.

Mayoral candidate Bottoms promised in 2017 to commit $1 billion toward the creation or retention of affordable housing in the city.

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