Recent years are monumental. We have come a significant distance from years in the mid-90s that saw more than 15 murders per year to fewer than a half-dozen in recent years, counter to the experience of peer communities seeing spikes in killings over the past two years. Every additional step toward safety is important, just as any incident of violence is one too many.
It is important not to artificially paint a zero-sum, all-or-nothing portrait of public safety. Bringing a more complete set of tools to the job of a strong community benefits each of us, alongside benefiting the police department. As we provide much stronger preventative efforts, we can also acknowledge that the motorist rear ended by a drunk driver, the mother who has her back door broken-in by a burglar, and the person who has experienced assault, all deserve a rapid response. These efforts of law enforcement and proactive community supports do not exist in opposition to each other, but in fact these multiple pursuits strengthen one another.
The multi-layered approach to public safety that I continue to support is paying dividends for the life and health of the Athens community, and every individual in it.
Police training and police salaries. We must continue to ensure that ACC police officers have the best training possible at de-escalation and community engagement, as with the recent implementation of i-Cat training for all officers. We have raised the PD salary floor to $47,000/year to ensure we are competitive in keeping and attracting high quality talent.
Co-responder teams. In a nation filled with millions of illegal weapons, there continue to be incidences of violence and predatory activity that need to be pursued with arrest. But we must also continue to innovate, as we have with co-responder teams prepared to support those challenged by behavioral health needs, along with our newly-launched team of crisis intervention counselors that will respond to emergency calls that do not involve violence. The SPLOST-funded addition of more than 20 beds at Advantage Behavioral Health Service’s facility will be joined by additional provisions funded with our allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Public Safety Advisory Commission. The recently approved Public Safety Advisory Commission will strengthen our engagement with the public and provide a critical communication link between the public and the local government. Neighborhood Leaders program. Another key pillar of this work is continuing to connect people to resources, as we have with funding of the Neighborhood Leaders program, providing every resident with a point-of-contact on the ground to ensure that employment, child care, nutrition and related needs can all be supported as quickly as possible for each Athenian. Research has demonstrated that stronger community outreach in these areas is highly correlated with reduced crime.