News & Politics

Atlanta Police Will Get a $500 Bonus Because That Will Fix Everything

An Atlanta Police Department vehicle burns during a demonstration against police violence, Friday, May 29, 2020 in Atlanta. The protest started peacefully earlier in the day before demonstrators clashed with police. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

You may think that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms woke up after her appearance on CNN yesterday and decided to throw her beleaguered police force a bone. She made the oh-so-insightful observation that police morale is low across the country. And her own department’s morale is down tenfold.

No small wonder, since seven of them have been fired and eight have been charged in recent days—six for their response to rioters, looters, and curfew breakers during the weekend of May 30, and two more for the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks, who violently resisted arrest, injuring one officer. Then Brooks stole the injured officer’s taser and shot it at the remaining officer while running away. The officer who fired his weapon was charged with felony murder yesterday by the Fulton County District Attorney.

However, it was not the mayor who decided to reward the police officers who have been working overtime under very stressful conditions. The Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) is making this $500 gesture. The foundation is funded through grants and donations. From their website:

The Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) was established in 2003 to provide vital support to the Mayor, the Chief of Police and the Atlanta Police Department. The organization is based on a public-private partnership model that has proven to be highly effective in the prevention and reduction of crime in other major cities. Since its inception, the APF has worked to secure and leverage private resources to fund high priority projects designed to enhance the City of Atlanta’s ability to fight and prevent crime.

The foundation has four major program areas of focus to support its mission:

  • Technology and Innovation
  • Community Engagement
  • Effective Leadership
  • Proactive Policing

The organization purports to have had a positive effect on the way law enforcement operates in Atlanta:

Spearheaded by the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) and its business, civic and philanthropic partners, the Atlanta Police Department (APD) has orchestrated a public safety strategy focused on increasing the size of the police force, establishing strong leadership and marrying cutting-edge policing with state-of the-art technology.

The statistics speak for themselves: crime continues to drop across the board, and residents are feeling that change. The challenge before us today is maintaining the momentum and continuing to advance innovation in public safety to drive down crime and make Atlanta the safest large city in the nation

According to statistics on the website, crime in Atlanta is down 30% since 2003. The APF has helped implement predictive policing technology, surveillance cameras, and a video integration center. They also have a program that monitors repeat offenders for special intervention and a youth center called the At Promise Center, which is the centerpiece of the APF’s youth crime-reduction initiative.

While it is wonderful that the AFP is recognizing officers in some way for the stress of the last several weeks, it is not going to be enough. The rift caused by the mayor and the district attorney will put the very progress the APF has funded since 2003 at risk.

Following the announcement of the charges in the Brown case, Atlanta scanner activity went quiet. I listened to Zone 5 and 6 last night and heard almost nothing from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. last night. There have been multiple reports that officers in all six zones walked off the job or did not answer the radio calls. However, neither the Atlanta Police nor the local union representative has given out any details on the impact.

Residents have been sharing stories that were backed up by some reporters on social media. It has also been reported that Mayor Bottoms reached out to nearby jurisdictions for assistance and was denied. Many of these reports were confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Vince Champion, Southeast regional director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, who represents officers from multiple local departments:

“There are officers walking off,” Champion said Wednesday evening. “There are officers saying they are not going to leave the precinct unless to help another officer. Some are walking off and sitting in their personal vehicles.”

Champion said he has been told APD was attempting to get back-up support from adjacent law enforcement agencies. But he said some agencies declined to help.

“Why would you put your officer in Fulton County and take the chance of this happening?” Champion said. “You have an officer who just heard what Paul Howard said, saying he’s going to be in prison for the rest of his life or put to death, and now he’s got to surrender.”

If other jurisdictions don’t want to send officers, it is understandable that the Atlanta officers are also hesitant to do their job. This is like the Ferguson effect on steroids, largely because Mayor Bottoms has abandoned the officers, publicly calling for the officer who fired on Rayshard Brooks to be fired. In a June 15 press conference announcing new administrative orders she said:

“While there may be debate as to whether this was an appropriate use of deadly force, I firmly believe that there is a clear distinction between what you can do and what you should do. I do not believe this was a justified use of deadly force and have called for the immediate termination of the officer.”

Think about how that would sound to another officer. Stated another way: “You very well may be justified in using force, but in the heat of the moment, you need to be able to judge whether Mayor Bottoms will think you should have used it. Because she will make a determination as a layperson based on political calculations and have you fired anyway.” That is an impossible standard.

During her CNN interview, after Bottoms had to acknowledge that many officers had not come to work, she said she wanted them to live up to the oath they took. Former Navy SEAL Jonathan T. Gilliam nailed it:

Eight officers in the Atlanta Police Department have been denied due process since June 1 because of Mayor Bottoms’ complete inability to lead in a crisis. She condemned them all as guilty with her public statements before investigations into the incidents were even complete.

The Atlanta Police Foundation sounds like a wonderful and productive organization. It is wonderful they are trying to recognize officers during a very trying period for the department. It is a shame the politically motivated knee-jerk reactions of an incompetent mayor will almost ensure their gesture rings hollow.