ATLANTA, Ga. – Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Tuesday, if maintaining public safety was as easy as making a speech, she would do that every single day.
But Atlanta’s mayor said the city’s problem with crime stems from too many guns on the streets and too many with disregard for human life following a violent weekend with multiple shootings.
“The reality is this, too many guns on our streets and too many people in our communities who don’t have regard for basic human life,” the mayor said firmly.
She put pressure on politicians in the Georgia General Assembly to react.
“Until our state leaders take a look at the most lax gun laws we have in this country and the way that guns get in the hands of criminals until that happens I am so sad to say that this is likely not that last time I’ll stand here,” Bottoms said.
The mayor was joined by Atlanta Police Department Interim Chief Rodney Bryant, whom she formally named permanent police chief at Atlanta Public Safety Headquarters on Tuesday. Bottoms asked the City Council to confirm him immediately.
“I am going to put his name forth to city council and ask that they confirm him immediately,” the mayor said.
Bottoms was vocal in her support for Bryant, whose work she saw first-hand as a member of the City Council.
“I don’t want there to be any question that I have confidence in the leadership of Interim Police Chief Bryant,” Bottoms said.
Bryant was named interim police chief in June 2020 after former Chief Erika Shields stepped down in the wake of Rayshard Brooks’ fatal shooting.
The solutions are complex and the mayor said they must involve all of us.
In addition to adding 250 officers on the street, expanding cameras in the city, increasing license plate readers and adding 10,000 lights to city streets, the mayor made another announcement. She will create a small working group to look at violent crime
“That cross-section of the community will report back to me in 30 days,” the Atlanta Democrat said.
The mayor called 2021 “one of the most challenging years for law enforcement in this country,” describing recent shootings as a “COVID crime wave.” Bottoms said the city is taking action in the form of a working group of people across the city to recommend in the next 30 to 45 days what more the city can do.
The mayor said the city needs help from state lawmakers to strengthen gun laws in Georgia.
“Taking a look at strengthening our background checks, the loopholes we have, and an assault weapons ban,” the mayor suggested.
Bottoms’ words butted heads with Gov. Brian Kemp, who said Monday the state is ready to provide resources to fight crime in the city, and Georgians are sick of the stream of tragic news.
“It’s really going to have to be local policing that will move the needle on this issue,” Kemp said.
The interim police chief said there is one thing the public can do, that takes a few seconds.
“The number one way criminals get guns is stealing them out of cars,” Bryant exclaimed. “That is what the public can help us with,” Bryant concluded.
At least 15 people were shot within the Atlanta city limits over the weekend. Officials say two people died in the string of violence, including a 15-year-old Diamond Johnson.
“For the third time as mayor, I am standing here to talk about a bullet that took the life of a child in our city,” Bottoms said.
Bryant called Johnson’s murder “significantly traumatic” and says the city will work “diligently to bring closure to this case.”
Bryant said the crime wave is not an issue isolated to Atlanta and that he would meet with other law enforcement agencies and partners for collaborative solutions. Bryant said APD is competing with a small pool of candidates with apartments nationwide.
“Professionally, many large police departments are seeing the exact same thing,” Bryant said.
Bryant said police officers and public safety professionals have had to reevaluate their careers as policing is under increased scrutiny.
“One of the greatest fears these officers have is that they will not only lose their job but lose their freedom unjustly,” he said.
He also recognized the need for policing to recognize when it falls short of public expectations and that morale within the department is improving.
Regarding guns, Bottoms disagrees with Bryant on the effectiveness of a gun buyback program in the city. Bryant said, while buybacks take guns off the street, criminals don’t typically participate.
Bottoms said until the systemic issues in criminal justice are addressed, the city will continue to see these issues during challenging times. She put the ball in Fulton County’s court regarding overcrowding at Fulton County Jail, saying the city issued a letter of intent to the Board of Commissioners but was awaiting a response.
Bryant said one thing the public can easily do to increase overall safety is secure their weapons better. The number one thing stolen from cars is guns and he says that’s “putting weapons in the hands of criminals.”
Bryant also announced a restructuring of domestic violence and repeat offender units in response to increases in that kind of crime. He also recognized a need to reorganize investigative units.
“Yes we have a long way to go, but I see the path to getting us there,” Bryant said.