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Atlanta Police Foundation to hold ‘Public Safety First’ forums, mayoral debate

Dave Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The Atlanta Police Foundation wants to help shape the mayoral race with an “issues campaign” called “Public Safety First” — a string of forums and panel discussions culminating in a late-summer candidate debate.

A nonprofit organization with a board of corporate executives and attorneys at powerhouse firms, the APF is a major financial and technical supporter of the Atlanta Police Department. Its best-known public effort is coordinating the “Operation Shield” network of public and private surveillance cameras that APD uses to observe the city.

Dave Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation (Photo by Maria Saporta)

APF said in a report circulated by the Buckhead Community Improvement District that the “Public Safety First” campaign will “ensure that the community engages in the well-informed debate over public safety it deserves.”

“APF is non-partisan, but as in past mayoral campaigns, we will endeavor to inform voters, educate candidates, and promote community discussions across the variety of public safety and law enforcement issues that will assuredly be central to citizen concerns as they choose among candidates vying to be Atlanta’s 61st mayor,” the APF said.

APF says the “Public Safety First” campaign will have three components:

  • A forum hosted by the Atlanta Security Council “that will focus on crime, its causes and prospective solutions from a macro perspective.” The Security Council is a group of chief security officers of larger Atlanta companies that meets quarterly for updates from law enforcement and criminal justice system officials, according to APF spokesperson Rob Baskin.
  • “A series of community panel discussions that will explore crime issues specific to each area of the city, including the Northside/Buckhead.”
  • A “Public Safety Mayoral Debate” that will be televised live.

Baskin said the dates for the events are yet to be set, but the mayoral debate is likely to be in late August or early September. A local television partner for the debate is set, he said.

In the past year, APF has played a key role in Atlanta response to the local effects of two national tends: a spike in violent crime and the calls for policing reform in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. The APF coordinated a “Buckhead Security Plan” that drew national attention for elaborating an existing system of publicly and privately funded security patrols; the plan alternately backed and challenged some of incumbent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ policies. The APF also paid bonuses to APD officers after sickouts and increased resignations followed the APD’s killing of Rayshard Brooks in Peoplestown, a case that led Police Chief Erika Shields to step down and sparked controversy about the firing and criminal charges against the officer who killed Brooks.

More recently, APF collaborated with the Bottoms administration on a police reform plan called “One Atlanta, One APD” and is working with her on a controversial plan to build a police and fire department training facility at the former Atlanta Prison Farm in southeast Atlanta.

The “Public Safety First” term was previously used by APF around 10 years ago in a fundraising campaign that was credited with assisting efforts to boost the APD force and retain more officers. That campaign came during the term of former Mayor Kasim Reed, who is said to be considering another bid for the office this year.

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