Why Fulton’s DA is backing Dickens in race for Atlanta mayor

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has endorsed Councilman Andre Dickens

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has endorsed Councilman Andre Dickens

Fulton County’s top prosecutor said she’s supporting Andre Dickens in next week’s Atlanta mayoral runoff because of his nuanced approach to criminal justice policy.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Dickens’ plan to combat crime is in “lockstep” with her policies. She had been one of the most prominent Atlanta officials who had yet to take sides in Tuesday’s runoff between Dickens and City Council President Felicia Moore.

“To be a safer community, you have to attack crime on multiple levels. Mr. Dickens get that,” Willis said this week. “He gets that we have to attack it on multiple levels. He’s the candidate that not only came to me and asked for my endorsement, but he asked for my advice.”

Willis said that she was impressed by Dickens’ plan to target gang leaders and add 400 Atlanta police officers over two years. As importantly, she said, Dickens “understands that I cannot prosecute myself out of this mess right now” and that a comprehensive approach is needed.

“He gets the other end as well. So that we don’t lose our children to gangs, we need to support programming so that children don’t end up in that world,” she said. “His philosophy, quite frankly, is in line with mine. He’s willing to listen, and I need someone that is willing to listen.”

Moore and Dickens have largely similar plans to curb Atlanta’s crime rate, and both pitch broad strategies to hire more police officers, boost training and address systemic problems such as poverty, homelessness and mental illness.

Atlanta mayoral candidates Andre Dickens and Felicia Moore at a runoff debate on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.

Credit: Spec

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Credit: Spec

They differ, however, on a handful of key issues, including the fate of Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant. Moore would immediately sack the chief and launch a national search for a replacement while Dickens would keep Bryant on a temporary contract that could be extended depending on his performance during the first 100 days of the administration.

Dickens said that he was determined to build a “fantastic” relationship with county officials to take on crime, which consistently polls as the top concern for Atlanta residents. He and Willis have also called for temporarily using the city detention center to help relieve overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail.

“When the DA and the mayor are in lockstep,” Dickens said, “that gives a good indication to the citizens of Atlanta that we’re serious.”

Willis on Dickens’ approach to police misconduct:

“He understands that police officers have to be given due process so that we never have this issue of losing morale and losing officers because officers are not treated fairly. Officers are like every other citizen in this community. He has a district attorney who, if an officer does wrong, I’m going to hold them accountable. But we’re going to do it in the right way, making sure they have due process.”

Willis on Dickens’ plan to combat gang violence:

“He talks about targeting the leaders of gangs and being very serious about crime interdiction … We’ve had more detailed conversations that his officers will work with the investigators and lawyers in my office so that we build strong cases from the start. I love that about his plan.”

Willis on Dickens’ philosophy on community policing:

“When I talk to our future mayor, he talks about the fact that it will be important for him for his police officers to do more than what people think of as traditional policing, but that they will also do things in the community. Again, we will be in lockstep. When I say our visions are aligned, and when I think our visions combined will make our community safer, I mean that. It is why I’m supporting him.”