Atlanta to consider creating new Department of Public Safety and Wellness

Atlanta police investigate a homicide in October.
Caption
Atlanta police investigate a homicide in October.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Atlanta is taking steps that could restructure its public safety agencies and create a new city department focused on “wellness” — a move officials say could be a model for other cities to build trust between police and the communities they serve.

Atlanta City Council members will study whether it should create a new “Department of Public Safety and Wellness” to coordinate issues of non-emergency response, police accountability, officer recruitment and morale. The City Council voted Tuesday to conduct a feasibility study into the formation of the agency.

The move comes as Atlanta residents and officials have grown increasingly frustrated about rising crime and as local leaders continue conversations about reimagining the role of police and its relationship with the community.

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A Department of Public Safety and Wellness would reorganize several positions and roles that currently fall under the Atlanta Police Department and other city agencies. It could create a division focused on non-emergency response and manage a new non-emergency response number to handle calls that may not require the immediate response of a police officer, like mental health crises.

It may also remove the Office of Professional Standards from APD in order to conduct independent reviews into police misconduct, and could reorganize some public safety functions that currently fall under APD’s purview but do not necessarily require a sworn officer to conduct, like code enforcement and licensing and permitting. The agency would also focus on improving police morale and recruitment.

The legislation that passed Tuesday directs the city to select a consulting firm within a month to conduct the feasibility study. The council will also form a subcommittee to hold two public work sessions with members of the community.

Then, the consulting firm has three months to submit its findings to the city.

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“This initiative will help us set an example for the rest of the nation and serve as a model for other cities to adopt,” Councilman Antonio Brown, the lead sponsor of the measure, said in a statement. “By building greater trust between law enforcement and the community, we’ll be able to increase security and safety in our city, especially for our most vulnerable populations.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently announced several new public safety initiatives, including 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 her administration plans to unveil plans Thursday aimed at closing and repurposing the Atlanta City Detention Center.