Atlanta mayor Bottoms announces proposed public safety initiatives

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a number of proposed criminal justice reforms Monday, after brushing off an invitation to personally appear at a City Council meeting to discuss crime.

Among the proposals: expanding enforcement of nuisance properties, increasing targeted enforcement on gangs and gun violence, continuing focus on disrupting street racing and improving police recruiting and retention.

And the Bottoms’ administration is also proposing to transform the city’s jail into a center for equity that would provide after-hours child care, educational and job training along with other social services to address the root causes of crime.

Last month, Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook issued a scathing press release that appeared to take aim at the mayor and her administration after the shooting death of 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie. The girl was struck by a stray bullet in Phipps Plaza in Buckhead on Dec. 21, and was pronounced dead the day after Christmas.

“It will take a lot to turn this around. But here, in descending order, are the three things we need to begin: 1). Leadership; 2). Some leadership; 3). Any leadership,” Shook, who is in his fifth term representing a large portion of Buckhead, wrote in the press release.

Shook’s comments made headlines throughout the country in articles questioning whether Bottoms, viewed as a rising national star in the Democratic Party, had lost control over her own city.

After reading Bottoms’ press release, Shook responded favorably on Monday.

“I like it,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I can’t wait to see it in action.”

The legislation introduced on Bottoms’ behalf Monday was one of several criminal justice proposals that were mirrored by legislation from other council members.

Shook also introduced an ordinance that would provide retention bonuses to police officers, but said the details would still have to be worked out.

Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown sponsored legislation that proposed creating a new city agency — the Department of Public Safety and Wellness — to address issues of crime, police accountability, officer recruitment and morale.

Ten other members of the council signed onto the proposal, which directs the city to conduct a feasibility study on the creation of the department, Brown said.

One role of the new department would be to manage a new “hybrid” non-emergency response number to handle calls that may not require the immediate response of a police officer, like mental health crises.

“We have been divided for far too long on public safety and wellness,” Brown said. “I’m going to bring people from Buckhead to Vine City, English Avenue together, and we’re going to talk and we’re gonna come up with recommendations.”

On New Year’s Eve, City Council President Felicia Moore pinned a letter to Bottoms requesting her presence at Monday’s council meeting.

“Recent events throughout the city have generated a steady stream of public discussion regarding the role and effectiveness of leadership in Atlanta,” Council President Felicia Moore wrote in the letter. “Based upon my observation, there are multiple initiatives which have been launched by the Administration relative to police reform and public safety.

“It could be helpful to the Council and the public to receive updates relative to the implementation status of any resulting recommendations associated with these initiatives.”

Bottoms responded to Moore’s letter on New Year’s Day. She said her administration had continually updated the council and the public on her specific steps to address violent crime in the city. But she did not attend Monday’s meeting.

“I will continue to engage the public and City Council on the important matters of public safety,” Bottoms wrote. “As always, my staff will be available during your City Council conference call meeting.”