Atlanta City Council\’s budget hearings are underway. Here\’s our recap of the first week.

ATLANTA — Atlanta City Council reconvened for its usual schedule plus the annual budgetary hearings for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22), which is required by law to be enacted by July 1. In the beginning of the month, we saw a round of preliminary discussions for the city budget, while this past week city council members began to hear from various individual departments. The Atlanta Police Department, Atlanta Fire and Rescue, the Department of Corrections, and 311 services, which includes the PAD division, introduced their budget proposals.

On Thurs., May 13, council members saw presentations from APD, Fire and Rescue, the Department of Corrections, the Municipal Court, the Office of the Solicitor, and the Office of Public Defenders. Not every council member was present, with Jennifer Ide (District 6) serving as chair, at times alongside Howard Shook (District 7). Council members Joyce Sheperd (District 12), Marci Collier Overstreet (District 11), and Dustin Hillis (District 9) were all present throughout the course of the day’s agenda. City council will reconvene for its next full council meeting on Mon., May 17 at 1 p.m.

In the wake of George Floyd — which activated the nation’s largest and longest running social justice protests in U.S. history — and then local police murders of Rayshard Brooks in June 2020 and Matthew Zadock Williams in April 2021, Atlanta governance has continuously responded with more policing, more surveillance, and more “crackdowns” and “tough on crime” policies that invariably target low-income communities of color. In spite of a global pandemic that triggered budget cuts to nearly every other department except for policing, and an impassioned social justice movement that has popularized demands to defund the police, neither city council or the mayor’s office has made efforts to decrease the police budget.

Last year’s budget meetings were flooded with calls on the public comment line with constituents raising their concerns about policing and demands to defund the police department — or at least, not increase it — amounting to as many as 16 hours’ worth of calls. Nonetheless, the police budget was increased by $14M last year, and this year appears to bring more of the same, even with a growing list of victims of police murder and many more impoverished as community programs remain underfunded. 

Here’s a breakdown of what we observed in city council’s budget meetings this past week, specifically highlighting departments that pertain to policing and incarceration in the city.

Atlanta Police Department (APD)

Police chief Rodney Bryant presented the APD budget proposal for FY22 which can be viewed in full here. The proposed budget for the next fiscal year is $230M compared to last year’s (FY21) adopted budget of $215M, which is a 6% increase. To compare to previous years, the FY19 actual budget was $200M and the FY20 actual was about $207M.

Bryant’s presentation also covered the 911 services budget, saying that the 911 and dispatch services are “critical”, adding that dispatchers are underpaid and overworked. Dispatchers frequently have to cover two zones. APD also rolled out a new dispatch service referred to as “computer aided dispatch,” or CAD, last Tuesday. Although Bryant said there’s been an “increasing number of people applying” for dispatch positions, recent audit reports show that only 1.9 percent of recruits for dispatch services were actually hired by APD. In his questions for Bryant regarding the budget, council member Hillis emphasized a greater need for more dispatch, saying there’s a “long wait time” for 911 calls.

“We spend a lot of money training people for these high stress jobs,” added Hillis. When asked if there is a two-year commitment for 911 operators, Bryant responded that there is not.

Hillis also inquired what is new in the police budget for code enforcement, licensing, and permits. Code enforcement, according to Bryant, has been a big “community request” along with improving 911 call services. Bryant said five new positions would be added to the code enforcement unit, which would all be filled by civilians. Council member Sheperd had more questions about these civilian positions that would require them to collaborate with police officers to do inspections of properties.

Sheperd also asked about the decrease in overtime that’s been trending in the APD over the last year. Bryant says there’s been a decrease in overtime and that there are processes in place trying to “manage it a bit better.” When asked if overtime was decreased to balance the budget, Bryant said yes. He added that there have been processes to “help,” including mandatory overtime.

Shook asked Bryant about the camera maintenance budget, which is currently a $800,000 to $1M proposed budget for FY22. Bryant says the police would “need more to maintain the camera systems that they have,” noting that one out of every 10 cameras are down. He says the department would need $4M to make sure they continue to have cameras up and running, to which Shook said he “smells a budget amendment.”

Bryant also touched on his conversations with newly elected Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, adding that a repeat offender unit has been discussed as another means to address crime. Council member Overstreet asked what in the proposed police budget reflects the gang issues the city is having in large numbers, saying that people “are very scared about the gangs.” According to Bryant, nothing in the budget will address gangs specifically, noting that it is part of internal operations and is dealt with through partnerships and task forces.

Fire & Rescue Department

Fire chief Roderick Smith presented the Fire & Rescue FY22 proposed budget review which can be viewed in full here. The FY22 proposed budget is $104, compared to the FY21 adopted budget which was $96M, constituting a net increase of $5.4M.

Department of Corrections

Interim Chief of Corrections Elder Dancy presented the proposed FY22 budget for the Department of Corrections which can be viewed in full here. The budget of almost $14M continues a budget reduction trend over the past several years. Key metrics of FY21 showed a reduction in the average daily population. These locations would include the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) and Grady Detention Center, with a daily average of 32 people. FY21 budget “highlights\’\’ included ACDC staff providing meal and laundry service at Ramada Plaza, the temporary shelter for people experiencing houselessness located at 450 Capitol Ave SE, as well as partnering with APD to provide transportation assistance during last year’s protests. 

Municipal Court

Chief judge Christopher Protis presented the FY22 Municipal Court budget, which can be viewed in full here. The FY22 budget of just over $13M is a $1,251,092 reduction from FY21. Pressing issues described were maintaining the physical building, including fixing a flooding issue in the lower level, and increasing funding for an “alternative pipeline” to “deal with those who violate the law but are in need of other services” (ex. housing insecurity, mental health). Ide pressed Protis for when e-citations would return. He replied that e-citations have not been revisited since the 2018 cyber attack. For reference, a large portion of APD’s paperwork is done by hand, including traffic citations and internal affairs reviews. 

Office of the City Solicitor

City Solicitor Raines Carter presented the FY22 Officer of the City Solicitor budget, which can be viewed in full here. The FY22 budget will be just over $8M, an increase from FY21. An approximate $637K will go to the Mayor’s nuisance program presented in December 2020 and adopted by city council in February of 2021. Properties deemed a “nuisance” are often strip clubs and those that provide alcohol service. The nuisance program is currently focused in East Point, a majority Black city, and Carter hopes to expand it.

Office of the Public Defender

Director and chief Public Defender Ken Days presented the FY22 budget which can be viewed in full here. The FY22 is $4.6M, an increase of approximately $700K. Days reported that for the greater part of a decade their caseload has been considered “excessive by every industry standard and assessment”, with COVID-19 dropping their load to a rate on par with levels recommended by the bar association. There will be two new critical programs in 2022. The first is SOAR, an SS/SDI Outreach program utilizing social workers to assist people in obtaining benefits. The second is a community resource form to to help quickly assist clients and community partners who serve the daily needs of homeless and vulnerable populations in the city of Atlanta. Days informed council members that outside of law enforcement, their office is “typically a point of first conduct” for people needing resources (i.e. housing, food, IDs, healthcare, employment, benefits, and transportation).

ATL 311

Commissioner of Customer Service/ATL 311 Salethea Graham presented the FY22 ATL 311 budget, which can be viewed in full here. Since 2020, ATL 311 services have included non-for-profit Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative (PAD), which received a substantial funding increase through the FY21 budget to expand citywide. It is unclear at this time how much of the FY22 budget will go towards PAD.

We will continue to report on the FY2022 budget as it moves through city council.

Atlanta’s municipal elections, which includes all seats for city council and the mayor’s office, take place this November. The Georgia General Assembly elections take place in the fall of 2022. Stay tuned for more resources and coverage from us ahead of these elections. Subscribe to our newsletter here to stay connected.

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