While law enforcement officials complained about the demonization of police, Georgia lawmakers were reminded this week that the pandemic left poor people desperate and thus contributed to the recent rise in violent crime.
The Georgia House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee convened Monday morning to question multiple law enforcement agencies about the dramatic rise in crime in cities across the state. The discussion also touched on the animosity between Republican state leaders and Democratic leaders in Atlanta, as well as the public’s attitude towards the police.
Atlanta Assistant Chief of Police Todd Coyt praised initiatives that have reduced youth-related crimes, such as the At-Promise Youth & Community Center. The Atlanta Police program provides “wrap-around” services that assist the at-risk youth and their families, in lieu of arresting them.
Coyt attributes the rise in youth-related crimes to poor economic conditions worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, where children feel the need to engage in criminal activity in order to support their families.
“We cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem,” Coyt said. “We know law enforcement is not the only answer to conquering this issue.”
Overall crime in the city has risen 11% since last year and is currently down 11% as compared to 2019, according to Coyt. However, homicides and aggravated assault have risen 18% and 20% respectively.
The animosity between the state government and the city government of Atlanta revealed itself during the hearing. During Gov. Brian Kemp’s opening remarks, he addressed the rise in gang activity in Georgia, stating that “local elected leadership in our capital city have created an anti-police, soft-on-crime environment.”
Kemp also encouraged lawmakers to pass laws to address the spike in crime during a special legislative session and to increase funding for Georgia police officers this fall.
Attorney General Chris Carr echoed this sentiment when answering questions from the committee.
“Our citizens deserve nothing less than the strongest possible sentences for those violent criminals who are wreaking havoc on our society,” he said. “But unfortunately, there are some who’ve decided to pick and choose which laws they want to enforce, and their self-interest-driven criminal justice reform is nothing more than this – a deliberate choice to not enforce the laws of this state. That’s a dereliction of duty and actual lives hang in the balance.”
Major Joshua Lamb, chief of staff of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, which oversees the State Patrol, answered questions from the committee on what he believes caused the uptick in crime in Atlanta.
“We’ve been demonizing the police to the point that everybody believes it’s the police that’s the problem,” he said.
Rep. Scott Holcomb, a Democrat from Atlanta, then questioned Lamb if the murder rate would decrease if people did not criticize the police. Lamb backtracked, saying that the criticism is a consequence of a lack of personal accountability on part of the critics.
“When you demonize the police and you expect them to try and go out and stop the murders, that becomes a problem,” Lamb said.
In addition to violent crime, illegal drag racing was a big topic during the hearing. Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, stated that he witnessed drag racing in Atlanta on the night before the meeting. Jasperse then questioned Lamb about what happens to the impounded vehicles of the indicted drivers.
Lamb cited Georgia’s new drag racing law that increased fines for every offense and noted that the collaboration between multiple law enforcement agencies has proven effective in reducing the frequency of the crime.
The committee will hold additional hearings throughout the remainder of the summer.