Georgia speaker: State study to look at Atlanta rising crime
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s speaker of the House wants to study whether the state should intervene in policing the city of Atlanta, saying levels of violence in the state’s largest city and capital have become intolerable.
House Speaker David Ralston announced Thursday that he would appoint a study committee to examine violence in Atlanta, with the group likely reporting before the 2022 legislative session whether the state should take action.
“Atlanta has a crime problem, and it doesn’t seem to be able to bring it under control,” Ralston told reporters. “Sadly, the facts paint a chilling reality. Not only is crime on the rise in every corner of this city, but we are losing the fight against crime.”
The speaker, a Republican from Blue Ridge, said he would brief Gov. Brian Kemp on his plans later Thursday. A spokesperson for Kemp didn’t immediately respond as to whether the Republican governor favors any possible intervention.
Ralston said Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee Chairman J. Collins, a Villa Rica Republican, would lead the effort. The speaker shared a copy of a letter he was sending to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
“I would ask that you cooperate with the committee’s proceedings,” Ralston wrote. “I know that we share a desire to see Atlanta remain a place that families and businesses wish to call home.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in an emailed statement that fighting the “COVID crime wave” is the city’s top priority.
“Atlanta, as well as the rest of the state and country, has faced an historic increase in gun violence over the last year,” Bottoms said. “If lawmakers have solutions to stemming access to guns by criminals and addressing gang violence, that have not already been enacted by the City, we welcome their input.”
The Atlanta Police Department recorded 154 homicides in 2020, when the city had averaged 90 annually over the previous decade. That increase has continued in the first part of 2021, and detectives have made only three homicide arrests in the first 11 weeks of 2021, compared to an average of 11 in the same period over the past decade.
Aggravated assaults, which can include nonfatal shootings, have also risen significantly, although not as sharply as homicides. Although Ralston also deplored break-ins in his remarks, burglary and auto break-ins are down in recent months, although auto theft is up.
Ralston said committee proposals could in include having state troopers provide policing.
“We’ve got an outstanding Georgia State Patrol here in the state,” he said. “You know we may have to talk about resources, I mean, there’s any number of forms that this could take.”
Deadly shootings have risen since last summer, when an officer’s shooting of a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, in a restaurant parking lot contributed to weeks of protests over racial injustice.
At times, police appeared to stand down from intervening to stop armed people from blockading the area around the restaurant site, and an 8-year-old girl was fatally shot last July 4. At other times, police officers called in sick in apparent unhappiness over how Bottoms and other city leaders were responding.
The action comes months before Atlanta voters will decide whether Bottoms should get a second term. City Council President Felicia Moore has announced a challenge to Bottoms, and violence in the city is likely to be a key issue in the race. The prospect of intervention by the Republican-led state government is likely to be unpopular in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
Republican Attorney General Chris Carr said he would support the House study, blaming gang activity for “unchecked violent crime” and a lack of support for police for problems in recruiting and retaining officers.
“This is a quality of life issue for families, and it is also a threat to our economy,” Carr said in a statement.
The state has a history of trying to intervene in city affairs, often setting off bitter disputes. The state, for example, tried to take over Hartsfield Jackson International Airport before backing off. Lawmakers have also appointed a legislative committee to oversee the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, a transit agency funded by residents of Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties.