Kemp: Anti-crime bills will be part of fall special session

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks to a state House committee in Atlanta on Monday, July 19, 2021. Kemp says he will ask lawmakers to consider new laws to combat crime in Atlanta during a special legislative session this fall. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

ATLANTA — Republican leaders are promising quick legislative action to fight violent crime in Atlanta as the House begins hearings on crime in Georgia’s largest city.

Gov. Brian Kemp told the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on Monday that he would include anti-crime proposals for lawmakers to consider this fall when they return for a special session to redraw electoral districts.

House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge said House leaders will propose $2 million to pay for 20 new state troopers to focus on tactical response and drunken driving enforcement in Atlanta. Ralston wants another $1 million to double to the size of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s anti-gang task force and Attorney General Chris Carr’s anti-human-trafficking task force.

The hearing came days after Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms proposed a $70 million crime-fighting plan that includes 250 more police officers, working to alter violent behavior and tracking repeat offenders to make sure they’re convicted. She also wants to install 10,000 more streetlights, crack down on illegal after-hours clubs and add 250 license plate reader cameras. The Atlanta City Council would have to approve the spending.

Ralston said in remarks delivered by video from Savannah that he didn’t want “to point blame or have a political discussion.” But both Kemp and Carr criticized some elected officials for their approaches to crime.

“The dangerous criminals in these gangs aren’t letting up. In fact, because local leadership in our capital city has created an anti-police, soft-on-crime environment, the task force’s work, in my opinion, is needed now more than ever,” Kemp said, reiterating criticism of Bottoms.

Ahead of 2022 state elections, many Republicans are trying to make the case that voters shouldn’t trust Democrats on crime, even though state government has traditionally had a limited role in fighting crime, with most of the responsibility falling to local sheriffs, police departments and district attorneys. Kemp has repeatedly touted state police efforts to cut down on street racing and stunt driving. Troopers have formed a six-person crime suppression unit to arrest fugitives, but troopers have little role in investigating local shootings, a key concern.

Carr said some district attorneys weren’t doing enough to prosecute cases, singling out District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, who covers Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties. Gonzalez has said that more people who are arrested should be released before trial without requiring cash bail, that she won’t prosecute some low-level drug cases and that she won’t seek the death penalty. That’s prompted pushback, especially from officials in Republican-dominated Oconee County.

“If they don’t like it, they should run for the legislature and change the law that way,” Carr told committee members. “I think it is dangerous for a member of the executive branch or the judicial branch to say I’m just not going to enforce the law.”

Carr suggested such prosecutors could be charged with violating their oath of office, although he said such a prosecution could be “difficult.”

Gonzalez said she was elected to stop “misusing resources on minor offenses.”

“Violent crime is a serious problem, and if AG Carr wants to stop playing politics and work together on addressing it, I am ready to do so,” she said in a statement.

While Carr said increased violent crime “is being driven in large part by criminal street gangs,” Assistant Atlanta Police Chief Todd Coyt said that the city’s police can only definitively link two homicides this year to gangs. He said most shootings are driven by disputes among people who already know each other.

“We believe that most of the homicides and aggravated assaults are due to a lack of conflict resolution,” Coyt said, adding that police can’t “arrest ourselves out of this problem.”

“You all keep focusing on Atlanta,” Coyt said. “What’s happening in Atlanta is not just Atlanta. This is a regional issue. It’s a national issue.”