Kasim Reed Holds Press Conference on Crime
(APN) ATLANTA — A top candidate for Mayor of Atlanta, State Sen. Kasim Reed, unveiled a comprehensive public safety blueprint Wednesday, July 29, 2009, days after the murder of a former boxer and the carjacking of City Councilman Ceasar Mitchell, both which rocked the city.
Reed rolled out his plan, “Securing Atlanta: A Blueprint for Restoring Public Safety in Atlanta,” at a Chevron station on Whitehall Street, near where former professional boxer Vernon Forrest was murdered Saturday night.
“That’s what this location is about. It’s about a decent man who gave so much and about so many others who have given so much whose lives have now been placed at risk,” Reed said.
Forrest was at the station putting air in the tires of his Jaguar when an armed suspect approached and robbed him of several items. Forrest, who was also armed, chased the suspect to an area near Fulton and McDaniel Streets before being shot multiple times in the back by an unknown number of assailants.
Soon after, in Washington Park, Councilman Mitchell, a candidate for Council President, was carjacked by three armed assailants after dropping his mother off at home.
“Let me be perfectly clear: Atlanta does not have a perception of crime problem,” Reed said. “We are in the midst of a crisis that challenges the City. We must act now.”
A central goal of Reed’s plan is to add 750 sworn officers to the Atlanta Police Department by the end of his first term to grow the force to 2,300 total officers.
“Atlanta’s police force is too small,” Reed said. “At a time when Atlanta has added 100,000 residents since 2002, we have added approximately 300 police officers.”
The candidate wants to not only attract new officers and fire fighters, but keep them, by offering competitive salaries that keep up with cost-of-living increases; encouraging professional development and education through tuition reimbursements; and offering subsidized housing within the City.
“Police officers and fire fighters in the City of Atlanta cannot put their lives on the line day in and day out and then be worried that the City is going to work to meet its needs,” Reed said.
Reed acknowledged the challenge of finding money to enhance public safety in a poor economy but pointed to some possibilities.
His plan calls for a dedicated funding stream for public safety that would not be a part of Atlanta’s general fund. During the 2009 Georgia General Assembly session, Reed offered legislation that would have allowed voters, through a local referendum, to establish a special fund dedicated only to police and fire. That measure did not take off.
In June, the Atlanta City Council approved a 3-mill property tax hike, an increase that ended police and fire furloughs.
“It’s now time to look at that property tax increase and to make a judgment about using more of those dollars for police and fire,” Reed said, noting he thought the increase should have been just 1 mill.
The Atlanta Police Department will soon be able to hire 50 new officers due to $11.2 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, doled out this week through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
Reed also noted Atlanta is failing to collect over $25 million in annual revenue and that there is a “massive problem of overtime in the non-public safety and fire areas.”
“Public safety and police and fire are going to be my number one priority as mayor and I will cut from other areas of government to see that it is appropriately funded,” Reed said.
Other aspects of his plan call for revitalizing neighborhoods, taking guns away from criminals and repeat offenders, and updating 911 emergency response technology.
Reed declined to place blame for public safety problems, neither on Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin nor Police Chief Richard Pennington.
Evander Holyfield, a four-time heavyweight boxing champion, Atlanta native, and friend of Forrest, attributed his success to getting involved as a child with the Boys and Girls Club.
“I truly feel that if it wasn’t for the Boys’ Club, I could be one of the guys out there doing the same thing,” Holyfield said Wednesday. “I could [have] been in jail [my] whole life if I would have not gotten that opportunity.
Other mayoral candidates have laid out their own public safety ideas as the issue has taken center stage during the campaign.
As previously noted on Atlanta Progressive News’s blog, Councilwoman Mary Norwood unveiled a 12-point plan months ago that, among other things, calls for a 10 percent growth of the Atlanta Police Department.
Norwood’s plan also calls for annual “incentive to stay” increments for police officers, and a deferred retirement option program for police officers nearing retirement.
Like Reed, Norwood also wants to make Atlanta’s salary and benefits competitive for police officers and to promote the idea of police officers living within the City.
Norwood also believes fixing broken windows will reduce crime in those areas.
Glenn Thomas, who worked on the public safety budget for Atlanta, wants more police walking the streets and to offer competitive pay.
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Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org
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