Kemp wants Georgia lawmakers to tackle Atlanta crime in fall special session

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at the Georgia GOP convention at Jekyll Island on Saturday, June 5, 2021. (Photo: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution)
Caption
Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at the Georgia GOP convention at Jekyll Island on Saturday, June 5, 2021. (Photo: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner

Credit: Nathan Posner

Gov. Brian Kemp said he plans to ask the General Assembly to pass laws to fight crime during a special legislative session this fall, when lawmakers could also vote to allocate money for additional state police officers.

Kemp made his announcements during a House public safety committee hearing on the spike in violent crime in Atlanta in the past year.

“It is my intention to include the work of this committee and solutions from other concerned stakeholders in my call for a special session of the General Assembly this fall,” Kemp said.

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The Legislature was already expected to reconvene sometime this fall to tackle the once-a-decade task of re-drawing state and congressional district lines. Governors can ask lawmakers to take up any issue in special sessions.

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 had increased by 40% compared to the same time period in 2020.

On Friday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that she wants 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, 2022.

Atlanta Assistant Police Chief Todd Coyt told the House panel that, since June, the homicide rate has dropped and he suggested the city’s public safety plans are working.

Coyt told the panel that more law enforcement is only part of the answer to addressing spikes in crime.

“We’re trying to establish the partnerships with the churches and with businesses,” he said. “We know we cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem. Law enforcement is only a part of the big picture.”

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, told the panel he plans to ask the General Assembly to approve spending $3 million to pay for 20 additional state troopers and to double the state’s gang and human trafficking task forces. Most of those officers would focus on the Atlanta area.

“We cannot allow this spike in violent crime to continue to cast a pall over our capital city,” Ralston said. “I’m of the opinion that we need more state law enforcement officers working in the city of Atlanta.”

State Rep. Scott Holcomb, an Atlanta Democrat and member of the committee, said he supports taking what’s learned from the hearings to inform policy changes. But he said Monday’s hearing didn’t get lawmakers anywhere near the point of solving the problem, or even defining how big a problem it is.

“There are many variables and many, many components that have to be understood, deconstructed, analyzed and then addressed and we’re just at step one,” Holcomb said. “We’ve got a long way to go.

“I don’t think that we heard enough today to support this being at crisis levels. I think what we heard was, it is an issue, and things are elevated although nobody could really define exactly how much.”

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