Judges, Atlanta Police Chief testify in Senate committee hearing on crime

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said crime has fallen in recent months after significant increases in murders, rapes, and other violent crimes earlier this year.

"Thankfully what we did see was those numbers begin to drop down dramatically from where we started the summer to where we are now," said Chief Bryant.  

Chief Bryant testified in front of the Senate Public Safety Committee during a hearing on crime trends in the city of Atlanta.

In May, he said, murders were up 63% over the same time the previous year.  That has now dropped to 15% over last year. Rapes were up 108% and are now down to a 67% increase.

Bryant said they still have work to do, but credited their state and local partnerships for the decreases.

He also told lawmakers that officer morale has improved.

"Our attrition has stabilized," said Chief Bryant.  "So, we're not seeing officers leave at the same rate that we did last year.  I saw the briefing from Chicago and they are still having that problem with attrition.  We're not in the City of Atlanta."

Bryant said APD is authorized to have 2,042 officers on their staff and currently have 1,711 officers including 85 new recruits.

A group of judges also testified in front of the Senate committee and offered solutions they think lawmakers could implement in the judicial branch to help rein in crime.

"I believe that there are at least five possible judicial solutions to assist in reducing serious, violent crime," said Cobb County Superior Court Judge C. LaTain "Tain" Kell.

His list included:

1. Accurate and timely criminal history data so that judges can make better-informed decisions about bond

2. Pre-trial supervision programs for offenders

3. Following data regarding issuance of bond

4. Video hearings legislation--to allow courts more flexibility to hold hearings via video

5. Senior judge funding--to pay retired judges to come back to preside over civil cases to help address the backlog--freeing up other judges handle more criminal cases

Judge Kell encouraged lawmakers to increase funding for local jurisdictions and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to ensure that data about offenders is accurately reflected in the Georgia Crime Information Center, or GCIC.  Judges use GCIC to look up information about defendants and determine if they should be eligible for bond.  

"If the local jurisdiction doesn't have someone to put it into the system, then it doesn't end up in the system and there's nothing GCIC or the GBI can do," explained Judge Kell.

Committee Chairman John Albers, R-Roswell, said the state should adapt lessons learned during the pandemic.  

"COVID has changed the way we're doing things and we're going to need to codify the ability to do things more virtually so the courts can get those backlogs," said Sen. Albers.  "But also, let's not let a good crisis go to waste.  We can evolve the way criminal justice works in the future now, not just during a pandemic."

The committee is scheduled to hold its next hearing on Nov. 3.