Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in a Sept. 16 press conference urged quick completion of U.S. Census forms, discussed police morale and a possible new police chief, and said special events permits might be allowed in October if COVID-19 cases trend downward.

U.S. Census

Bottoms encouraged residents to quickly complete the 2020 Census after President Donald Trump ordered early collection of the data – a move that has prompted a lawsuit from cities and civil rights groups.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks during the Sept. 16 virtual press conference.

“The Trump administration shaved off an entire month of time,” Bottoms said in the virtual press conference. “The deadline was originally Oct. 31 and now it’s Sept. 30, which is problematic. We have the COVID-19 pandemic, fires, hurricanes.”

Bottoms said accurate census data helps to determine, among other things, infrastructure and school funding and Congressional representation. She said she believed the shortened deadline was a “political play” by Trump to undercount minority populations and exclude undocumented workers.

“It’s a political play because it speaks to representation in Congress,” Bottoms said. “In my personal opinion, it’s disregard for the U.S. Constitution.”

A federal court ruled last week that an executive order issued by Trump to exclude people who are in the country illegally from being accounted for in redistricting violates the law.

Bottoms said the response rate in Atlanta was currently at 57.7%. She said it took her only 15 minutes to complete the Census form for her family of six.

For information about completing the Census form online, see the official website here.

Atlanta Police Department

Bottoms addressed the search for a new chief of police and morale within the Atlanta Police Department, which saw more than 20 officers resign in the last month. Bottoms said the higher-than-normal resignation rate was happening across the country, but said morale was “stabilizing.”

Interim Chief Rodney Bryant said he believed morale was “on the mend, but still has a way to go.”

“I won’t minimize the concerns of our officers,” Bryant said. “They are concerned about the state of law enforcement in this country.”

The media has reported that hundreds of officers across the country have quit in the wake of high-profile police brutality cases and the resulting protests.

As for the search for a new chief, Bottoms said it was an “inopportune time” to conduct a search due to the ongoing pandemic and the scrutiny on policing. She said Bryant was being considered as the permanent replacement for Erika Shields, who resigned earlier in the summer in the wake of an APD officer’s shooting and killing of Rayshard Brooks during a DUI arrest.

“We’ve been advised to give our interim chief the support and resources he needs while we evaluate to see if Bryant might be who we want,” Bottoms said, praising Bryant’s 30-plus years of experience with APD.

Bottoms created a task force to recommend changes to APD’s use of force policy in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by an officer in Minnesota. She issued seven administrative orders last month on use of force policy, including directing intervention if an officer witnesses unreasonable force being used to subdue a subject. APD officers staged a mass sick-out in June after murder charges were brought against the officer who shot Brooks.

Pandemic reopening

Bottoms said the city could move to phase three of its reopening plan by Sept. 24 if COVID-19 numbers continued to trend downward. Phase three would include workers returning to offices, larger gatherings, and the city would begin accepting special event applications again.

The city recently moved to phase two, which allows gatherings of 10 people, keeps government offices shuttered, and the mask-wearing mandate in place. All of the phased guidelines are available at this link.

The guidelines are recommendations, not requirements. Some of its provisions, such as recommendations for restaurants not to have indoor dining, are already widely ignored as Gov. Brian Kemp has issued looser legal restrictions. The city mask-wearing mandate is enforceable as it was created under a separate order.

–John Ruch contributed

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.