As the city of Atlanta hosted a news conference to address its 154th homicide of the year, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she takes the issue of crime “very seriously.”
“I want to be clear: I know what I’m responsible for in the city and I take it very seriously,” she said at the Dec. 29 conference, where she and two Atlanta Police Department leaders spoke about the police identifying and issuing warrants for a suspect in the Dec. 21 Buckhead shooting of 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie, who died five days later. “If there’s something we’re not doing and we haven’t enacted or should be doing better, my ego is small enough to ask what we need to do to improve things.
“I don’t like being here. I don’t want to be in this situation again to talk about this. What I do know is APD is doing what they can. If there are resources we don’t have, we’ll move mountains to solve problems. We are working to address the systemic issues we have. But if there’s something we should have to fix it, let us know.”
Maxie was shot while riding with her mother and aunt by Phipps Plaza during a shopping trip, and a suspect has been identified but not yet arrested.
Bottoms has been criticized by residents and at least one elected official for not displaying enough leadership in a year where the city has had the most murders in 22 years. Late spring and early summer included looting, rioting and violence erupting from peaceful protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and other Black individuals at the hands of mostly white police officers.
In a statement in reaction to the Maxie shooting, District 7 Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook, who represents the area where Lenox Square and Phipps malls are, said he is upset “about this latest and most painful example of the utter lawlessness that defines what it means to live in Atlanta.”
“It will take a lot to turn this around,” he said. “But here, in descending order, are the three things we need to begin: 1). Leadership; 2). Some Leadership; 3). Any leadership.”
One individual commenting on the department’s Facebook live-stream of the news conference said, “Horrible. Mayor has dropped the ball several times. While this incident is not her fault directly, it may be indirectly.”
Bottoms did not attend the Dec. 22 news conference the police hosted the day after the Maxie shooting, but she did host a virtual news briefing in November to address an increase in crime citywide. Bottoms’ nephew, Darius Bottoms, was killed in 2014 by three gang members who thought he was someone else.
“I know the pain of losing a loved one,” she said.
Bottoms said she’s warning all bars and nightclubs hosting New Year’s Eve parties that they must abide by city and state laws regarding COVID-19 mandates such as requiring masks and social distancing.
She also said she wants to dispel rumors about the police’s anti-gang task force being dissolved.
“But what we did do is officers who wear body cams, when working with the federal task forces, were not allowed to wear body-worn cameras,” the mayor said. “But as a result, the federal government has allowed most officers to now wear body-worn cameras while working with those federal task forces.”
Bottoms said the police is partnering with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies on Operation Phoenix to arrest several suspects.
“We have removed from the street over 1,500 violent offenders and 356 guns,” she said. “Some people have asked for a gun buyback program, and we are considering that.”
Bottoms also said the police have created a Top 10 Most Wanted list.
“Since its creation about a month ago, three (suspects) have been arrested and removed from that list,” she said.
Bottoms added the police is partnering with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and new Sheriff Pat Labat to “put more sheriff’s deputies on the street at peak times to help with patrols.”
She also said the police are seeing a reduction in crime among young offenders through its At-Promise Youth & Community Center started by the Atlanta Police Foundation. The police are also expanding its Operation Shield network of security cameras.
“We’ve talked about street racing and you’ve already seen a reduction in street racing and we’re continuing to work on that,” Bottoms said.
The mayor also acknowledged morale is low with the Atlanta Police, which has dropped from a peak of 2,000 officers during the Kasim Reed administration to about 1,600 today.
“Morale in the police department is suffering,” she said. “We know morale across the nation is down. We know it’s a tough job for police officers. We are working with the Atlanta Police Foundation and others to develop a new public safety training academy. If you’ve seen the ones officers work in now, it’s in very poor condition.”