Georgia House leader wants more spending to fight crime in Atlanta

By Nyamekye Daniel

(The Center Square) – Georgia House Speaker David Ralston has proposed spending $3 million more to increase state law enforcement personnel and combat crime in Atlanta.

Ralston announced the proposal Monday during a House Committee on Public Safety and Security hearing. The panel is focused on examining solutions to reduce rising crime in the city.

“We cannot allow this spike in violent crime to continue to cast a pall over our capital city,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “I am committed to devoting whatever resources are necessary to bring this crime wave under control and bring criminals to justice. Our amended fiscal year 2022 and fiscal year 2023 state budgets will contain proposals to do just that.”

The Georgia Department of Public Safety (DPS) has a $247 million budget for fiscal year 2022. Lawmakers allocated $186.2 million in state funds to support the agency from June 30 through July 31, 2021. The General Assembly must review the state’s current spending plan and decide whether to make changes during the regular legislative each year.

Ralston has proposed spending $2 million to add 20 additional state trooper positions. He also wants the state to spend $1 million to double the size of Georgia’s anti-gang task force and anti-human trafficking task force.

Shootings in Atlanta increased by 36% as of July 10 compared with the same time last year, Atlanta Police Department’s crime report shows. Rape has increased by 82%, and murder was up by 27%.

Atlanta Police Department Assistant Police Chief Rodney Bryant said because of the pandemic, 2020 was an “aberration,” causing the numbers to be overblown in the media. When compared with 2019, Bryant said overall crime in Atlanta is down 11%.

Gov. Brian Kemp called for a special session in the fall to adopt legislative solutions to the crime.

Improving public safety has been a priority for the governor, who has launched initiatives to curtail human trafficking and gang violence in the state. Kemp directed $5 million from his emergency fund in May to the DPS to address crime in Atlanta.

“While the General Assembly and my office, along with many state agencies, have stepped into the gap to protect our citizens and help ensure law and order in our capital city, I look forward to working with you all to see what more we can do,” Kemp said Monday.

DPS Chief of Staff Josh Lamb said since Kemp’s announcement in May, the agency has teamed up with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to coordinate “weekend crowd suppression.” The DPS also has created a crime suppression unit.

Local law agencies have joined in the effort that Lamb said is focused on violent crime and street racing. As of Friday, 88 fugitives have been captured because of the weekend details, Lamb said.

The DPS also has partnered with the Atlanta Police Department, resulting in the recovery of 47 stolen cars and 16 stolen guns and the arrest of 27 fugitives, Lamb said.

GBI Director Vic Reynolds said much of the violent crime in the country is connected to gangs.

“All violent crime anywhere from around 48% to 90% are committed by known validated gang members,” Reynolds told lawmakers. “No matter where you’re at, you can automatically just from the get-go determine that a low end of one of every two violent crimes has some connection or relation to some to some individual in a gang.”

Reynolds said officials confirmed two years ago 71,000 gang members were in the state. About 30,000 gang members are incarcerated or under community supervision, he said.

Bryant, however, said the majority of the violent crime in Atlanta is not gang-related. He said his department has been able to connect only two homicides to gangs. As of June 10, 75 murders have been reported in Atlanta this year.

“And that’s not to say gangs are a problem,” Bryant said. “We don’t like to put out information that we cannot prove.”

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