ATLANTA — On Mon., Jan. 4, Atlanta City Council reconvened for its first full council meeting of the year. Here is our full briefing, divided into sections.
Top considerations: Bottoms’ new One APD Immediate Action Plan and Buckhead’s new private police force
Yesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms “brushed off” an invitation to attend the council meeting that was especially intended to discuss crime. At 12:11 p.m., Bottoms’ office released a press release announcing the One Atlanta: One APD Immediate Action Plan. The One APD plan claims to address systemic issues that lead to violence, but nothing in the plan appears it will do anything to mend the issues caused by the continuous disinvestment in the city’s communities. (Bottom line: the root cause of crime is lack of community resources.) Additionally, there is no mention of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic as a contributing factor to the increase of crime in the city last year.
Here, the mayor delivers a plan to “expand enforcement of nuisance properties,” increase surveillance, continue to crack down on street racing and auto crimes, and funnel more resources to target enforcement on gang activity. It’s worth noting that the plan intends to further crack down on street racing the same time that the city has rolled back a policy that restricted police officers’ ability to conduct police chases, which have repeatedly caused harm to civilians in the city in dangerous accidents.
The end of the press release states, “In addition to these public safety actions, the Administration will continue its focus on affordability and equity. Legislation related to justice reform will also be introduced today—including legislation related to the closing of the Atlanta Corrections and Detention Center (ACDC).”
This increased focus on crime occurs on the heels of the shooting of 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie in Phipps Plaza on Dec. 21. Maxie died from critical injuries sustained from the shooting on Dec. 26. The following Monday, Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit, Howard Shook, and Matt Westmoreland announced they will be donating $125,000 in taxpayer dollars to fund a new proposal that would essentially install a new private police force in Buckhead. The incentive is being referred to as the Buckhead Security Plan and can be viewed in full here.
The plan seeks to “enforce a zero tolerance policy” when crimes and violations occur, and states that current policies and measures used to enforce crime are not “producing effective security results.” In its statement as to why Buckhead “needs” a security plan, the official site claims the plan represents an effort to “do its part in promoting safety and security for all Atlantans while working to reclaim the quality of life that each resident has come to expect.”
The claim that the plan would benefit all Atlantans is questionable. One of the objectives in the plan is to establish a “supplementary, multi-car dedicated security patrol utilizing off-duty sworn officers of APD for exclusive use within Buckhead commercial corridors.” The plan also details it will dedicate funds to officers in the form of gift cards, meals, and events. The plan will also expand Operation Shield, which will tack on even more surveillance in a city that is already one of the top 10 most surveilled cities in the world.
There seems to have been little involvement from community centers outside of Buckhead and already established police entities. The development of this new force is being supported and funded by the Buckhead Coalition, the Atlanta Police Foundation, Atlanta City Council (J.P. Matzigkeit and Howard Shook), Fulton County Commission (Rob Pitts and Lee Morris), City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office (Jon Keen), Atlanta Police Department (Zone 2), the Buckhead Community Improvement District, Livable Buckhead, Buckhead Business Association, Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, NPUs A, B, and C.
On the plan’s website, it also notes potential “threats” to the plan’s success, including “further attrition and decline in morale at APD,” “increasing brazenness among party-goers, their hosts, and street racers, if a response to their actions is not forthcoming,” “a potential reduction in Zone 2 manpower due to private sector investment in this public safety program,” “potential civil unrest due to events beyond our control,” “budget pressure on City of Atlanta and APD,” and “tax base erosion due to a business and residential exodus if unlawful behavior is not substantially curtailed.”
Donation amounts towards parts of this plan were reviewed during the city council’s meeting, and no objections were raised by any council members regarding the new plan.
Public comment opposing the city’s rollback on legislation that restricts police authority to conduct police chases
A good number of city residents called into the public comment line protesting the rollback on police chasing policy, citing the fact that police chases have been the cause of harm to civilians in numerous dangerous accidents. Former Chief of Police Erika Shields halted all police chases in January of last year, stating that the “risk/reward of pursuing suspects in vehicles is not worthwhile.” The rollback has occurred since Shields’ resignation that followed the APD shooting and death of Rayshard Brooks. The policy was altered under interim police Chief Rodney Bryant and went into effect on Dec. 30.
Some callers said this change in policy puts civilians’ lives in danger and gives police more unneeded authority. This policy change arrives after a long year of public demands to Atlanta officials to make moves to address police brutality, corruption, and abuse of authority. Residents who called in stated that this was an egregious act giving police even more power and authority, when they believe this is a time to invest in wellness in our communities both monetarily and in thoughtful legislation.
In one standout call, a local resident pleaded that city council members do not “let Buckhead speak for all of them” and to act in hope, not fear.
In response to the public comment calls, Councilmember Michael Julian Bond asked which city entity holds authority regarding chase policies held by the police department. Councilmember Joyce Shepherd stated that the current Chief of Police Rodney Bryant has that authority, adding that he will be present during the next public safety meeting on Mon., Jan. 11.
New legislation from Councilmember Antonio Brown
Near the end of the meeting, Councilmember Antonio Brown introduced a new resolution that requests city council committees “conduct a feasibility study and compile comprehensive recommendations regarding the establishment of the creation of the department of public safety and wellness, within the City of Atlanta, that will formally coordinate and direct public safety and wellness efforts.” Brown’s resolution has support from Councilmembers Matzigkeit, Westmoreland, Michael Julian Bond, Joyce Shepherd, Andrea Boone, Jennifer Ide, Andre Dickens, Natalyn Archibong, Carla Smith, and Marci Collier Overstreet. The legislation was referred to the public safety committee for further review.
Compared to the short-sighted move to grant more resources in policing to the Buckhead community and Bottoms’ One APD plan to increase surveillance and stricter enforcements, the new resolution appears to seek to address the root causes of violence and crime by establishing a Department of Public Safety and Wellness in the city. The resolution paper specifically cites similar legislation as passed in Albuquerque with its Community Safety Department and St. Louis with its Conflict Resolution Center. The goal is to address “many communities’ concern for a lack of accountability and transparency between police and public and increase community safety.”
“The legislation being introduced is centered on creating a more collaborative and coordinated effort to address the complexities of public safety and wellness in Atlanta,” Brown further elaborated with us. “We have an opportunity to set a national example and create a model for other cities across the nation to follow. The streamlining of emergency and non-emergency functions under a newly formed Department of Public Safety and Wellness will allow for a more efficient and cost-effective way to address issues of major crimes and non-emergency matters. This effort will help build greater trust between law enforcement and the community and create a stronger bridge toward safety and security for our city’s most vulnerable populations.”
Councilmember Smith, District 1, was elected Council President pro tempore, meaning “for the time being,” for 2021 at the beginning of the meeting. It wasn’t explained why, however, there are rumors of council president Felicia Moore’s run for the city’s mayor this year
The council adopted an ordinance to establish the salaries for the mayor, council president, and members of council for terms of office beginning in January 2022. The city council salaries include an increase; the amount wasn’t specified.
The council reviewed a resolution that would establish the general election date for this year’s local elections as Nov. 2, 2021. The resolution is currently being held in committee based on a recommendation.