Atlanta’s mayoral candidates resume focus on fighting crime at latest debate

Atlanta’s mayoral candidates sought to separate themselves from the pack in a calm manner at the latest debate — a visible contrast to the tensions exposed at previous forums leading up to early voting this week.

Candidates focused on crime at Wednesday night’s 11Alive event. Polls show the 62% rise in homicides from 2019 to last year has dominated voters’ minds.

The gun violence is so troubling that Buckhead residents might vote to break away from Atlanta in November 2022 to become a new city.

“We’re at risk of losing 20% of our neighbors and [Atlanta Public Schools] is at risk of losing $230 million and more in funding,” said former Mayor Kasim Reed, who wants to use Atlanta’s $200 million in reserves to hire 750 police officers and pay for police overtime.

But Reed and his opponents focused on alternative ways to prevent crime without hiring more police, at the urging of 11Alive’s Shiba Russell and Jeff Hullinger. The former mayor vowed to reopen Atlanta’s recreation centers to steer young people away from crime and help teenagers find $15-an-hour jobs during the summer.

City Councilmembers Antonio Brown, Andre Dickens and Council President Felicia Moore, along with attorney Sharon Gay and businesswoman Rebecca King promised to operate with a community policing model while expanding young engagement programs.

Gay mentioned code enforcement crackdowns while King promised to expand the Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative.

Dickens said he would expand Atlanta’s network of safety cameras and streetlights. Moore promised to revive neighborhood watch programs and to support courts to prevent the release of repeat violent offenders.

Brown said he would create centers focused on conflict resolution and the LGBTQ community, as well as expand nonemergency services through a Department of Public Safety and Wellness.

“We must have mandatory retraining of all of our officers and we can’t continue to say that we’re going to train them in a post-George Floyd way,” Brown said in a jab at Reed’s rhetoric referencing Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police last year. “We have to train them in a Rodney King way.”

Moore at one point defended the council’s role during the crime wave by saying they’re only legislators, and that the mayor has authority over the police.

Dickens, Gay and Moore continued to stress their administrations would lack the federal bribery or fraud crimes that was rife among six of Reed’s city employees.

Reed’s personal attorneys have said that they were told by U.S. Attorney’s Office that the former mayor is not a target in the Atlanta City Hall corruption investigation.

“(Former U.S. Attorney) B.J. Pak stood up to Donald Trump and B.J. Pak reviewed my life and my activities as mayor and took no action,” Reed said.