The Atlanta Police Department will undergo an 18-month, “top-to-bottom” review for possible reforms, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced in a Nov. 18 press conference, where she also discussed crime, Thanksgiving COVID-19 safety and other issues.
In some other hot topics, Bottoms partly blamed shootings in the city on Gov. Brian Kemp’s pandemic business reopening policies, and indicated she is open to considering a position in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration but has not received an offer.
The review of APD’s policies, procedures and training will be conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, an advisory organization based in Washington, D.C., that frequently conducts such studies for local police departments. A separate urban planning firm will be involved to ensure citizen engagement in the process, Bottoms said.
The cost of the study will be paid by the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a group of corporate leaders who advise the mayor, Bottoms said. She initially hesitated to identify the group paying for the study and consulted with an unnamed person on her phone about whether she could.
Bottoms indicated the review will begin shortly, and while it will last 18 months, some reforms could be implemented as they are suggested.
Bottoms also announced a new city webpage dedicated to “transparency” about the administration’s efforts to reform policing, the Municipal Court and the city Detention Center. Its address is justicereform.atlantaga.gov.
Shootings, street racing and other crime
Bottoms said that reports of violent crimes continue trending downward citywide, but acknowledged that shootings remain a concern. She specifically attributed recent shootings in or around nightclubs in part to looser COVID-19 restrictions drawing violent visitors from such out-of-state locations as Chicago.
“Obviously, the governor has made the decision to keep the state open, but that seems to be contributing to what we see around bars and nightclubs in our city,” Bottoms said.
Bottoms and Kemp have been at odds over pandemic regulations and crime responses this year. Kemp’s administration at one point sued Bottoms over a mask requirement and has authorized the Georgia National Guard to be deployed in Atlanta with law enforcement powers in the wake of shootings.
Another nightclub-related concern is the possibility of restaurants and bars acting as illicit after-hours spots. Officials and neighborhood leaders in Buckhead have pushed for a review of licenses and permits of certain businesses to crack down on any trouble. In the press conference, Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant said APD recently conducted more than 316 inspections at businesses to check their “status.”
Bottoms also addressed street racing, which has plagued city streets with bigger and more frequent gatherings during the pandemic. Bottoms reported that between January and Nov. 15, APD had issued 560 citations related to street racing. Last weekend, she said, that included 190 traffic stops, 173 citations, 14 arrests and seven vehicles impounded.
However, despite unenforceable language in a recently adopted city ordinance, APD has a limited ability to impound street-racing vehicles. The Atlanta City Council earlier this week approved a resolution calling on state lawmakers to grant them the power to seize such vehicles for longer periods and even permanently.
“I don’t have any plan to veto it,” Bottoms said when asked about that resolution, but also indicated she was not aware of its full details. “I do think there needs to be enhanced penalties,” she added, calling street racing “a nuisance, but it’s also extremely dangerous.”
In other crime-related announcements, Bottoms said APD officers would rejoin federal task forces after a policy change that allows them to wear body cameras in some instances, and that the department will begin circulating a list of “most wanted” offenders on social media on Wednesdays.
Bottoms announced a “very robust” program to house homeless people that will use $18 million in private contributions and federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. The funding, through the nonprofit Partners for Home, will provide housing and supportive services.
Bottoms said the organization recently provided housing and services to 75 people who were living in an encampment near Pryor Street in Downtown. The city has not been removing homeless people from encampments unless there is housing and support services available, in part due to pandemic safety guidelines, Bottoms said.
Bottoms said her family will celebrate a “virtual Thanksgiving” during the pandemic and urged others to do the same, or at least adhere to the guideline of gathering in groups no larger than 10 people.
Bottoms and her husband Derek were diagnosed with COVID-19 in July. Both survived, but the mayor said Derek continues to have “lingering” effects, including migraines, fatigue and, in a new development, “his sense of smell comes and goes.”
“This is nothing any of us should take lightly. Please be mindful of that over the Thanksgiving holiday,” Bottoms said.
Possible Biden position
Before the nomination of Kamala Harris, Bottoms was considered as among the contenders to be Biden’s running mate. Now there is gossip about the possibility of her being named to a position in Biden’s White House.
“I’ve not gotten any calls about leaving Atlanta,” Bottoms said when asked about that talk. “… I would never say never, but there’s nothing before me to consider.”