Your Atlanta City Council briefing for Mon., April 26

Protesters gathered outside of city hall on June 1, 2020. Photo credit: Aja Arnold/The Mainline

This article was originally published on Tue., April 27. It has been updated to reflect the names of city council members present during the vote on new resolutions introduced.

ATLANTA — The Atlanta City Council Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee met Monday to discuss new resolutions introduced by council members and committee, the city’s current trend in crime rates, the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC), and more. The council’s discussion featured presentations from the Atlanta Police Department and the Department of Corrections. 

All resolutions previously reported by The Mainline were introduced in Monday’s council meeting and passed unanimously favorable by council members present: Joyce Sheperd, Michael Julian Bond, Carla Smith, Cleta Winslow, Dustin Hillis, and Andrea Boone. Each resolution is another step towards increasing either policing, surveillance, or police spending, with a couple cementing distinct connections between the mayor’s office and the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Police Foundation. One other new resolution introduced by committee, 21-R-3405, which seeks to establish a contract for telephone services in detention facilities with Inmate Calling Solutions, LLC., was held in committee.

The meeting lasted about eight hours, with half of the time used to play constituent messages in the public comment line which clocked in at four hours and 24 minutes. Comments were divided into two hour blocks with two hours played in the beginning of the meeting and remaining calls played after the meeting. Like most other recent city council meetings, the public comment line calls were split between constituents who urged council to vote to keep the jail open while others called to demand council vote to close the jail, in accordance with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ and the city’s promises to close the jail since 2018. Interestingly, it appears the call campaigns happen at different times, resulting in a public comment listening session that is literally divided in half; this, in effect, makes the calls seem one-sided before entering the meeting, and then hearing a deluge of callers from the other side of the aisle at the end of the meeting.

Atlanta Police Department Chief Todd Coyt stated in his presentation that although overall crime in Atlanta in general is up by 9% compared to this time last year, numbers are going down through the department’s strategy of targeting “problem areas” (or in the context of this conversation, clubs) and sending in specialized units, i.e. zone crime suppression units, field investigation teams, criminal intel, and “federal partners.” Last year, the pandemic prompted a rise in crime seen locally, as well as nationally, and was one of three major factors that drove the country’s historic murder spike in 2020. (Spoiler alert: the other two were police violence and increased gun sales.) 

Despite the crime rates decreasing in Atlanta this year, and an already increased police presence throughout the city, city council has continued to push for approval of legislation for more equipment and more personnel. This concerted effort woefully disregards national calls for new solutions most strongly heard in the city and the country last summer following the police murder of George Floyd, and then reignited by the APD police murder of Rayshard Brooks. Data and well-documented history of the last 60 years shows that more spending on police does not lead to less crime. Further, thousands of constituents calling in support of defunding police were vocal about these findings in their calls and letters to city council members last year. Similar pleas arrived to city council again after APD officers arrested peaceful protesters, resulting in the hospitalization of two individuals according to sources at The Mainline, the night of the unprecedented insurgence of Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. There is consistent evidence that over-policing communities does not quell crime, including violent crime, which a majority of city council claim to hold as their top priority as they all prepare for elections this fall.

As far as the city jail is concerned, Coyt echoed the fears of those calling to keep ACDC open stating “offenders are non-violent so when they go to jail they come right back out and do it again.” However, this comment inadvertently illuminates the fact that incarceration and increased policing aren’t long-term solutions to root issues of crime such as generational poverty and lack of resources within communities. 

The Department of Corrections’ presentation showed that two detainees and 50 employees have had COVID since March, although coronavirus restrictions are reportedly still in place. Additionally, custody count rose from 344 people in January to 417 in March. The city jail’s housekeeping staff was utilized to do laundry and serve meals for the Ramada warming center at 450 Capitol Ave. Councilmember Bond asked when the corrections staff are going to be able to pick up trash on the city streets and highways again, explaining that his constituents have been complaining about trash. Trash pick-up on the highways and streets throughout the city is one example of (cheap or unpaid) labor completed by those incarcerated in jail facilities.

Mayor Bottoms continues to be absent from city council discussions regarding the future of ACDC, although she’s delivered strongly worded promises and commitments to its closing to make way for a center of equity and wellness. A representative from the mayor’s office, Jon Keen, was present in Monday’s meeting and stated that a letter of intent from the mayor went out to councilmembers that same morning. This letter is not currently available to the public. 

As things currently stand, a compromise regarding the jail has been presented with the city offering 150 beds and Fulton County asking for 500. The mayor’s office continues to say they are in favor of closing the jail, but the council’s position appears to be much more vague. Moore stated she wants to see the council, or at least the public safety committee, form an opinion as a governing body on whether the jail should be sold, rented, or closed. Moreover, Councilmember Winslow said, “We have a nice jail that’s just sitting there,” with other council members in agreement. Despite this general consensus and mounting public pressure from constituents, human rights organizations like Women on the Rise and Southern Center for Human Rights, and local activists, decarceration or steps towards decarceration were never mentioned.

Keen stressed that partnership with Fulton County and Sheriff Pat Labat on all justice reform efforts is “key” with council members agreeing. For reference, both Fulton County and Labat were part of the “close the jail” task force and have been included in discussion despite insinuation that they have not been. Discussions are still underway and they hope to come to a “formal intergovernmental agreement,” saying “it takes two to tango”. Whether this agreement will include the work of activists and consideration of numerous public comments to close the jail is yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, street racing is still an ongoing topic among council members and the police while the city’s partnerships with other police forces continue to grow with the City of South Fulton, and Dekalb County, Clayton County departments, along with the Georgia State Patrol, currently involved. Further, the Atlanta water boys are being targeted even harder by APD with tactics including citing the boys “when necessary,” seizing their water, and having “conversations” with them and their parents. Coyt shared that police officers have also begun citing parents of the boys and added that they “try to not arrest them,” considering they are juveniles, but that they “will when they have to.” City council president Felicia Moore was insistent to clarify that if arrested, it does not mean the boys are being “locked up.” However, for further clarification, if they are taken into custody and given a citation, it is still considered an arrest even if they do not go to the metro youth detention center. Attempts to redirect the so-called “water entrepreneurs,” as police refer to them, to other activities are, according to Coyt, not working because “they make too much money from selling water.”

We will continue to report on these issues as they develop.

Atlanta’s municipal elections, which includes all seats for city council and the mayor’s office, take place this November. The Georgia General Assembly elections take place in the fall of 2022. Stay tuned for more resources and coverage from us ahead of these elections. Subscribe to our newsletter here to stay connected.

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