by Nyamekye Daniel
Leaders in the metro Atlanta area said they plan to use American Rescue Plan funding to address public safety issues.
Officials in Fulton and DeKalb counties and the city of Atlanta have announced plans to use a portion of the federal aid to increase public safety or address criminal justice backlogs.
According to several reports, Atlanta and adjacent cities have seen a spike in crime over the past year. State lawmakers have launched a study to look at ways to curb the issue. Gov. Brian Kemp directed $5 million last month from his emergency fund to address the crisis.
Congress earmarked $350 billion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments in the American Rescue Plan. Governments can use the federal aid to address revenue losses caused by the pandemic, cover costs incurred by responding to the crisis or provide recovery support, according to the U.S. Treasury.
Federal guidelines specify the support can include “assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, and aid to impacted industries.” It also can provide “premium pay to essential workers and make necessary investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.”
DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond announced a multimillion-dollar plan late last month to increase public safety and prevent violent crimes in the county with the aid.
“This funding will allow us to proactively work to mitigate the growing crisis of homicides and violent crimes in metro Atlanta and holistically address the root causes and effects of crime throughout DeKalb County,” Thurmond said.
Thurmond’s proposal calls for using $11.5 million out of the county’s $73 million in American Rescue Plan funding for crime prevention and intervention strategies.
About $6.7 million would provide one-time $3,000 bonuses for public safety employees, including police officers, firefighters, emergency dispatch employees, medical examiner investigators, sheriff’s deputies, district attorney’s investigators and probation officers.
The DeKalb County Public Safety Department would receive $2 million for training, personnel, equipment and other crime-prevention initiatives. The police department would use the funding to purchase a bus for a mobile police precinct. DeKalb County also would hire three additional nurses for a mobile mental health crisis unit.
DeKalb County courts and related agencies would receive $3.2 million to reduce their caseload backlog and for anti-violence initiatives.
Fulton County also will use some of its direct aid to resolve its caseload backlog.
According to the Fulton Country District attorney’s office, there are about 11,000 cases pending felony cases in the courts. About 7,000 of those cases are related to a judicial system shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said. Representatives for the office said another 4,000 cases are a result of the mismanagement of the office by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ predecessor. Willis took office in January.
“Our priority is keeping dangerous criminals off the street, so we have two grand juries convened simultaneously, and we have brought in experienced prosecutors and investigators to move the cases as quickly as possible,” Fulton County District Attorney spokesperson Jeff DeSantis said.
DeSantis said they expect the backlog to continue well into next year. Fulton County officials said they plan to use $60 million of the county’s more than $200 million direct American Rescue Plan funding to resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, thousands of inmates continue to await indictment. It costs Fulton County $84.28 a day to house an inmate, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported in 2019.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said last month Atlanta would use some of its American Rescue Plan for crime prevention.
The city will dip into its nearly $171 million in recovery aid for violence intervention programs and equipment. Bottoms said $5 million would be used for the intervention programs, and Atlanta will spend $2.5 million to purchase additional cameras and license plate readers for its crime surveillance center.
“The city’s allocation of American Rescue Plan funds will be used to address our most pressing needs, including significant investments in public safety and rental assistance for our residents,” Bottoms said.
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Nyamekye Daniel is a regular contributor to The Center Square. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times.
Photo “Keisha Lance Bottoms” by Keisha Lance Bottoms.