The House Public Safety Committee has been tasked with studying the spike in violent crime in Atlanta in the past year and presenting solutions to the Legislature as state Republican leaders have put a focus on the capital city.
Republicans have jumped on Atlanta’s rise in homicides to make fighting violent crime a cornerstone of their 2022 election strategy up and down the ballot.
Atlanta had a historically deadly 2020, when authorities investigated 157 homicide cases — the most in more than two decades. This year, as of June, homicides had increased in Atlanta by more than 50% and shootings were up by 40% compared with the same time period in 2020.
In response, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has taken steps to curb the problems, including creating an office of violence reduction and announcing plans to invest $70 million to develop and implement strategies to address crime.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety earlier this year created a “crime suppression unit” that will be staffed by 10 officers focused on the Atlanta area, the agency’s commissioner told lawmakers. He, Skandalakis and Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said more police and increased visibility will help tamp down crime.
“We must all be mindful that we will not be able to police our way out of this. We will not be able to lock up enough folks, regardless of how many police officers we have,” Bryant said. “But having a police presence does have an effect on both the perception of crime plus the ability for an individual to commit a crime.“
Adrienne Penake, a volunteer with the gun control organization Moms Demand Action, encouraged lawmakers to also invest in grassroots anti-crime organizations to try to head off gun violence.
“Community-based violence intervention programs already have successful relationships in their local communities,” she said. “They can directly address the surge in violence in Atlanta and the surrounding communities of Georgia.”
State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, pushed back on the idea of devoting funds to anti-crime groups.
“First and foremost, I tend to believe the first obligation of the government is public safety,” Powell said. A lack of police “ is what creates anarchy,” he added, “and that’s what we need to be dealing with at this time.”
Gov. Brian Kemp has called on the Legislature to pass policies aimed at curbing crime during a special legislative session already planned for this fall. House Speaker David Ralston announced his intent to boost criminal justice funding by $75 million next year, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan proposed creation of a $250 million tax credit for Georgians who donate directly to local police departments or sheriff’s offices.