Ga. House Speaker suggests state patrol could take on Atlanta crime

    House Speaker David Ralston wants the state to look into Atlanta's crime rates for possible state intervention. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

    The Georgia State Patrol could be taking over elements of Atlanta’s policing responsibilities if House Speaker David Ralston gets his way.

    In a letter to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the Blue Ridge Republican announced he has tasked Villa Rica Republican Rep. J. Collins, chair of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, with holding committee hearings on Atlanta crime and determining “if state intervention may be necessary.”

    “In the past, I have resisted calls for state oversight of a city’s operations, but this pandemic of lawlessness has now reached crisis proportions,” Ralston said at a press conference Thursday. “I have written Mayor Bottoms today to advise her of this process to ask for the city’s cooperation with the committee and its work. We want to work together.”

    Bottoms indicated she would be willing to work with the state.

    “Fighting this COVID crime wave is our top priority. Atlanta, as well as the rest of the state and country, has faced an historic increase in gun violence over the last year,” she said in a statement. “If lawmakers have solutions to stemming access to guns by criminals and addressing gang violence, that have not already been enacted by the city, we welcome their input.”

    Last week’s spa shootings in Atlanta and Cherokee County horrified the nation, but violence has been up in the city before that. Last year was Atlanta’s worst year for homicides in two decades with 157 homicides, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    In his letter to Bottoms, Ralston also cited high reported cases of larceny and car thefts, and he expressed concern for lawmakers who serve during the legislative session at the Capitol in downtown Atlanta.

    Speaker David Ralston invited Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to speak to members of the House in January. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

    “Our state Capitol is located here, and I know of numerous members of the General Assembly who have had their vehicles broken into or their apartments burglarized just in the last year,” Ralston said.

    “Normally, it would fall to a city’s mayor and police force to address this issue. As many of you have reported, nearly 200 Atlanta police officers quit or were fired last year. All this is to say Atlanta has a crime problem, and it doesn’t seem to be able to bring it under control.”

    Ralston said intervention could involve Georgia State Patrol troopers or other assistance still to be determined.

    “It could take personnel, we’ve got an outstanding Georgia State Patrol here in the state, we may have to talk about resources, there’s any number of forms this could take,” he said.

    Collins declined to say who might be invited to join the committee, saying that will be determined this summer.

    “All possibilities are on the table at this point,” he said.

    In January, Bottoms unveiled a plan she said will address violent crime, which includes channeling more resources into gang and gun violence prevention and improving police training and retention.

    Rising crime is becoming a key issue in Bottoms’ re-election campaign.

    In a video released Monday, Bottoms’ challenger, Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore pledged to do more to tackle crime if she is elected in November.

    “Crime is out of control in Atlanta. Homicides were up 58% last year, 58%. That’s unacceptable,” she said. “Meanwhile, we’re down over 400 officers. Atlanta, we have a problem.”

    Ross Williams
    Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.