Over the last few months, the Metro Atlanta Chamber has conducted dozens of interviews with key stakeholders, including law enforcement, judicial officers, businesses, and community and faith leaders. We also hired a criminal justice research firm to compile and analyze the most recent crime statistics available. Data shows that crime in metro Atlanta has been declining consistently since the mid-1990s. From 2016 to 2020, the number of violent crimes overall remained stable. However, the composition of violent crime changed. Since 2019, we’ve experienced troubling increases in three areas: homicides, aggravated assaults and crimes involving firearms.
Our interviews and data identified numerous drivers of increased violent crime, including:
- Challenges in our judicial systems, including suspension of jury trials, case backlogs and data entry lags
- Lack of support felt by law enforcement, which impacted policing and emboldened offenders
- Escalated gang activities paralleling a lack of youth engagement
- Increased use of firearms in interpersonal disputes
While the spike in violent crimes started before the pandemic, the global crisis has amplified it. Many of our interviews cited COVID-19 as inflicting stress on all parts of our community, from education to healthcare, law enforcement to judicial proceedings and wrap-around services.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber is committed to constructive solutions that improve public safety. Here are a few places we can collectively begin:
- Leadership: The November 2 municipal elections are an opportunity to support candidates who have strong commitments to public safety. The candidates — especially for mayor of Atlanta — must have credible plans to execute their promises. Strong working relationships between state and local government are also essential. One voter resource is the Committee for a Better Atlanta (CBA), which evaluates and scores candidates for Atlanta elected office. A key component of CBA’s 2021 platform is “Improving Public Safety Outcomes.” CBA’s platform was developed by Atlanta’s top businesses, with input from the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
- Law Enforcement: Trust between our communities and law enforcement must be rebuilt. Law enforcement officers should be supported, well-paid and well-trained. At the same time, they must be held accountable for their actions through due process. These ideals are not mutually exclusive.
- Judicial Systems: An overlooked deficiency in public safety is a criminal justice system not keeping up with demands. For example, some judicial circuits have fallen behind on case record entry, which could prevent judges from having a full picture of a defendant’s prior history. At the same time, inaccurate criminal records can be a barrier to individuals securing quality employment, housing, and education. Our judicial systems must work to address any shortcomings.
- Community Organizations: Youth engagement and the provision of mental health resources are critical to public safety. The community, businesses and government must strengthen their commitment to public-private partnerships and other organizations that provide these services.
None of this work will be quick or easy. Public safety is improved when all citizens and leaders rally together. The phrase used often throughout the pandemic still rings true: “We are all in this together.”
Katie Kirkpatrick is Metro Atlanta Chamber president and CEO.