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Gang activity reduced in Atlanta, police chief tells lawmakers

Officials say suspects aren't prosecuted and end up committing more crimes.

ATLANTA — A leading Georgia prosecutor told state legislators that the pandemic-driven shutdown of courts across the nation have led to spikes in crime in Atlanta and elsewhere. 

The shutdown of courts backlogged jails, making it more difficult to lock up suspected criminals.

That, plus a glut of available firearms – can be tied to the rise in aggravated assaults and murders in Atlanta and around the state.

"We can’t arrest our way out of our problems," said Pete Skandalakis, a west Georgia prosecutor who now leads the state council of prosecuting attorneys. "With the pandemic, we have had a perfect storm, so to speak, of repeat offenders and some violent offenders with access to firearms."

Skandalakis was speaking to Georgia lawmakers, who held the second in a series of hearings on violent crime in Atlanta.

Atlanta police chief Rodney Bryant agreed that the pandemic has made crime fighting more complicated.

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"If an individual bad person in the city of New York, (or) California or wherever that person is – if he’s not adjudicated there, and he’s able to come to the city of Atlanta and commits a crime, it affects us here," Bryant told reporters after the hearing.

Bryant told lawmakers some of it is manifesting in gang violence. 

"We aren’t running from the fact that we are seeing a significant problem as relates to gang violence," Bryant told the House Committee on Public Safety, adding that the city is targeting neighborhoods where gangs appear to thrive.

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Some Republicans on the committee were critical of Atlanta's political leadership.  

"We’ve seen lack of respect (for police) from political leaders there," said state Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), adding that the climate emboldens criminal behavior.  

"So many people think there are no consequences for their actions," Powell said. 

But Chief Bryant said some crime data is showing that at least the rise in violent crime has slowed down.

"What we’re seeing as far as aggravated assaults, those numbers are starting to come down just a little bit. Our homicide numbers are still very concerning to us," Bryant said.