Atlanta crime becomes target in Georgia lt. gov race

Credit: Steve Schaefer / AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer / AJC

The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor is calling his Democratic opponent “soft on crime,” saying that violent crime rose while he was an assistant district attorney in Fulton County.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation statistics suggest that isn’t completely true.

Charlie Bailey, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, served as part of a team of assistant district attorneys from 2014 to 2018, working on the office’s organized crime and gang unit.

Bailey’s GOP opponent, Burt Jones, is using increases in rape and assault while Bailey was in the DA’s office and his close alliance with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams to accuse Bailey of being “soft on crime.”

“Charlie Bailey would be a rubber stamp for the same reckless agenda that caused (an increase in Atlanta homicides),” Jones said in a campaign fundraising email sent to supporters. “In fact, violent crime spiked while Charlie Bailey was a prosecutor in Fulton County. And now, as violence in our state spirals out of control, we can’t allow these failed policies that put Georgia families and communities at risk to continue.”

How the AJC covers politics and elections

Providing Georgians with the information they need to participate fully in democracy is our highest goal. AJC reporters strive for fairness and accuracy. They do not support political parties and are not allowed to endorse, contribute to or campaign for candidates or political causes.

Reporters and editors are members of the communities they live in and are encouraged to vote, but they work to be aware of their own views and preferences and carry out their jobs in an independent, non-partisan way. As we scrutinize public officials and issues, we hold each other accountable for doing so from a position of independence.

We work hard to be evenhanded and fair, and we invite you to let us know how we’re doing.

Bailey’s campaign called Jones’ attempts to call the Democrat “soft on crime” a reach, saying the rate of violent crimes actually decreased.

“Burt Jones has managed to highlight the decrease in violent crime rates during the time Charlie was in the Fulton County DA’s office,” said Maria Andrade, Bailey’s campaign manager.

According to data from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, between 2013, the year before Bailey started with the district attorney’s office, and 2017, his last full year as an assistant DA, the number of reported instances of violent crime — murder, rape, robbery and assault — fell from 8,178 to 7,179. During that same time period, the county’s population grew from about 949,000 to about 1 million.

Certain categories of violent crime increased during Bailey’s tenure, according to GBI data. For example, the number of reported instances of rape and assault increased in Fulton County from 230 to 415 and 4,068 to 4,286, respectively.

Bailey responded to Jones’ attack by saying his opponent has been identified as a target by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in an investigation into his role in trying to help then-President Donald Trump overturn the result of Georgia’s 2020 election. Jones was one of 16 phony GOP presidential electors in Georgia, all of whom were initially identified as targets in the investigation to determine whether Trump and his allies committed a crime in their unsuccessful attempt to reverse Joe Biden’s victory.

Jones successfully petitioned the court to block Willis, who hosted a campaign fundraiser for Bailey in June, and her office from investigating him. Another set of prosecutors will determine whether to subpoena Jones, whether to categorize him as a target of the investigation or whether any charges should ultimately be brought against him.

“I have sat in the living rooms of families torn apart by violent crime,” Bailey said in a statement. “I won’t be lectured by someone who was flying around the world on his daddy’s plane while I was locking up murderers, violent kidnappers and domestic abusers.”

Jones has zeroed in on comments made by Bailey during a Democratic lieutenant governor’s runoff debate in June where he said he wasn’t aware of any instances where his stance on policy issues differed from that of Abrams. Republicans have cited an interview with CNN where Abrams indicated she supported shifting public safety resources away from law enforcement. Abrams has said the quote was taken out of context, but the GOP has characterized that as supporting “defunding” the police.

“When you create a soft on crime culture and refuse to prosecute criminals, you see a surge in repeat offenders,” Jones said in a statement. “That’s the culture that Charlie Bailey was a part of — and Georgians are continuing to suffer because of it.”

Libertarian lieutenant governor candidate Ryan Graham declined to weigh in on Jones’ characterizations.

“One of the big focuses on my campaign is not to defund the police or give them extra funding, it’s to reprioritize what the police are working on,” he said, such as spending more time investigating violent crimes and less of it issuing traffic citations.

Jones has been endorsed by law enforcement groups, such as the Police Benevolence Association of Georgia and the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police. Some of those groups have endorsed other Republicans running in statewide races.

Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman, a Republican, said he has worked with Jones on law enforcement issues while Jones has been a state senator.

“This much I can say for him: When there are issues involving law enforcement or public safety, he doesn’t hesitate to reach out,” Chapman said.