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Mayor Bottoms outlines steps to curb 'COVID crime wave,' address police reform, affordable housing

In her State of the City address, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms laid out her goals for the city as well as highlighted its achievements over the last year.

ATLANTA — In her State of the City address Wednesday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms laid out her goals for the city as well as highlighted its achievements over the last year.

One issue she addressed is what people in the city have voiced concerns about as of late: crime.

“This year alone, major cities across the country, including Atlanta, have seen a rise in murders and aggravated assaults,” she said.

Atlanta Police Department data shows homicides are up 63% compared to this time last year, and aggravated assaults are up 43%.

The crimes over the past year include high-profile cases like the killings of David Mack and Secoriea Turner, as well as several shootings on interstates in the city.

While many cities across the metro and country have seen crime rise during the pandemic, the mayor says Atlanta is making progress addressing the problem by working with the FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, using 1,500 cameras, drones, and air units to stop crime.

National public safety expert Dr. Cedrick Alexander said he believes the mayor was transparent and came prepared with a strategy, but it’ll take more than her ideas to curb crime.

“It requires technology," Alexander said. "It requires a community that is totally engaged in helping encourage public safety in their communities. It requires a police department that is actively and fully engaged."

Hand-in-hand - with her focus on addressing crime in the city - she also put an emphasis on building relationships between police and community.

“Those guidelines call for a change in culture in policing, and embraces working with communities to tackle the root cause of crime,” Mayor Bottoms said.

She said among ways the city can help support police are by building a new public safety training facility, offering retention bonuses to keep officers from leaving - on top a pay hike implemented last year - and hiring 250 more officers.

The Atlanta Police Foundation’s CEO, Dave Wilkinson, said those efforts will boost morale in the department. That’s something that was heavily impacted after fallout between officers and residents following civil rights protests last summer and the charges filed against officers in the tasing of two college students, as well as the officers involved in the death of Rayshard Brooks.

He said APD needs the support.

“That will immediately put a spring in the step of every Atlanta police officer because they will know the city of Atlanta’s behind them, cares for them, increasing the staffing the numbers to give them help and give them support,” Wilkinson said.

Crime isn’t the only problem the Atlanta community can help address; homelessness is another issue Mayor Bottoms honed in on.

The problem was thrust even more into the spotlight during the pandemic. So far in 2021, Mayor Bottoms said the city has helped nearly 500 people find permanent housing and are on track to help 2,000 families by the end of the year.

Jack Hardin, founder and chairman of The Gateway Center, a non-profit in Atlanta helping the homeless, said between the help of private donors and the city’s efforts, he can say Mayor Bottoms’ efforts have made a difference.

“We’ve been blessed in this city to have three mayors in a row to have been concerned about the homeless population and have provided good partnership," he said. "I don’t think any city can be a great city unless it deals with the most needy among its citizens."

11Alive reached out to mayoral election challenger - and current Atlanta City Council President - Felicia Moore for a response to Bottoms' solutions. Moore said while the ideas are good - for instance, the city's plan to redirect the "water boys" to job opportunities and education - she doesn't believe there's been enough follow-through with the mayor's task forces.

Moore was also critical of Bottoms' statements about working with local leaders and the community to solve problems, but she said she's only met with Bottoms twice in a little more than three years. 

Moore said she wants the mayor to focus on working more with local leaders and prioritizing the citizens of Atlanta. 

"The focus has been more on what is happening nationally, and not focusing on what's happening locally," Moore said. "The national attention is good because its good for the city's image to have a high profile mayor, but you've also got to do your work at home."

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