Kemp uses emergency fund to boost spending on tackling Atlanta crime

01/12/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Gov. Brian Kemp watches as Colonel Chris C. Wright, Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, makes remarks about security around the Georgia State Capitol building during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Tuesday, January 12, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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01/12/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Gov. Brian Kemp watches as Colonel Chris C. Wright, Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, makes remarks about security around the Georgia State Capitol building during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Tuesday, January 12, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

In a continued focus on tamping down crime in Atlanta, Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday announced that he would use $2 million in emergency money to fund a newly formed “crime suppression unit.”

The money is being moved from the governor’s $11 million emergency fund, which typically is used to help with unexpected expenses, such as storm cleanup.

The unit — which includes state troopers, local officers and other state law enforcement officers — was created by the state Department of Public Safety in April to tackle crime and street racing in metro Atlanta. Kemp used $5 million of his emergency fund during the past fiscal year, which ended June 30, to start the unit.

Kemp said the DPS asked for the additional $2 million to hire “additional personnel.” DPS officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Kemp said the money will “allow the department to carry out their strategy to protect our capital city.”

The move is the latest of several that the governor and other Republican leaders have made in recent months to address crime in the Atlanta area.

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.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently announced plans to create an office of violence reduction and invest $70 million to develop and implement strategies to address crime. In March, Bottoms said she wants the city to hire 250 more police officers, expand the city’s camera network and license plate reader systems, and add 10,000 more streetlights in the city by Dec. 31.

When asked last week about state lawmakers’ focus on city crime, a spokesman for Bottoms said, “The city of Atlanta is working to identify and use all available resources toward crime reduction, including dedicating $70 million in private and public money needed to fund the city’s crime-fighting plan and the (anti-violence) advisory council’s recommendations.”

In the past few weeks, Kemp has called on the Legislature to pass policies 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.

“This additional funding is necessary to keep the streets of Atlanta safe and protect residents and visitors alike,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge.