Federal law enforcement funds flow to Atlanta as police reform talks take shape
By David Pendered
Atlanta is on track to formally accept a total of $1.8 million from two federal law enforcement agencies, following votes taken Tuesday in one committee of the Atlanta City Council.
By no means is this amount representative of federal funding for Atlanta’s police and fire departments during an average week.
It just happens to be the amount discussed at a particular point in time, a moment when federal law enforcement payments to cities across the country are under rising scrutiny from advocates challenging traditional spending on public safety. They have raised the issue in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.
The money discussed by the council’s Public Safety Committee does speak to the pipeline that exists between the federal governmental entities that fund the police and fire departments of local governments. The pipeline speaks to the complexity of the calls to defund police departments, if not to dismantle police departments.
One academician on Thursday urged caution for those who would defund police departments. Dan Smith was a panelist at a webinar hosted by the Volcker Alliance and Penn Institute for Urban Research. Smith works at the University of Delaware as associate professor of public police administration and director of the masters of public administration program.
Smith advised advocates to consider at least three aspects of police funding: The sources of money they want to defund; the data sources on which they rely; and what they mean by the words, police spending. Smith observed:
- “Is it [funding] for equipment, pensions, operations? Is the equipment lent to police through a Department of Defense program? … Not to say that we should not be [looking at police spending]. I would caution: What do we really mean by ‘spending,’ and what are the sources.”
Atlanta’s top two elected officials have called for reforming police practices.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has formed a task force to recommend revisions to the policies that govern the force police officers can use to subdue suspects and keep the peace. Recommendations are due by June 18.
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore has made three recommendations to reform police. Moore suggested the city adopt some of the provisions recommended by two entities – a task for established by then-President Obama, and a policy arm of Black Lives Matter. The third recommendation is to adopt a budget for police for the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1, as is required by June 30, but hold it in abeyance while determining if some funds could be redirected to purposes such as training.
Here are the three projects, and their funding streams, as discussed at the city council’s Public Safety Committee:
- From the federal Homeland Security Grant Program, via a State of Georgia subgrant, for the purpose of, “building and enhancing the communities capabilities in homeland security on behalf of the Department of Fire Rescue.” The legislation does not specify the use of funds;
- From the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Programs and Justice Assistance, for the purposes of, “promoting the safety of law enforcement officers in preventing, in preparing for, and responding to the coronavirus; and … the Chief of Police has determined the Atlanta Police Department will need additional funding for the purchase of masks, sanitizers, thermometers, and building/vehicle decontamination;
- From the Atlanta Urban Area Security Intiative, which is administered by the Atlanta Regional Commission and funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- The police department received about $298,000 and used about half the money, $153,800, to buy 21 night vision binoculars, and $108,000 on 16 mobile vehicle barriers.
The fire department received about $82,000 and spent about $23,000 to purchase 173 advanced life-saving kits to treat severe bleeding, obstruction of the airway and tension pneumothora; and about $32,600 to purchase 17 gas leak detectors capable of sniffing four different gases.
- The UASI program is design specifically to protect, “high-threat, high-density areas that were identified as vital to the nation’s economy and national security, if disrupted by a terrorist attack,” according to a description by ARC. The jurisdictions in the program are Atlanta, and the counties of Clayton Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett.