The Community Safety and Police Violence project of the Southern Center for Human Rights will host the last of seven town halls intended to engage, educate, and gather input from Atlanta residents about policing, violence, and community safety. The project held the first six town halls in person and in each of Atlanta’s six police zones with residents of those zones joining as community experts, adding their own unique experiences on those topics to the discussion. Tuesday’s town will be held digitally, and registration is open to residents of all six zones. Attendees will receive a stipend in the form of a $50 gift card for their time and participation.
“Community education is an equalizer,” says Devin Franklin, Southern Center’s Movement Policy Counsel. During each town hall, the project presents their findings regarding use of force, racial biases, and the record high 116 shootings by police in the state of Georgia in 2022, which gives community members “information from all sides of the issue, including information that is unknown or ignored by elected officials,” according to Franklin. According to GBI data, last year Atlanta Police Department officers committed 13 shootings, more than double its 2021 total.
The existence of a quota system for Atlanta Police Department officers is consistently the most surprising realization by attendees in previous town halls. “So many people have never heard of it and honestly, without the information we are able to provide, it almost sounds conspiratorial or exaggerated,” says Franklin.
APD Chief Darin Schierbaum defended the quota, which the department calls a point system, saying last year, “It’s a reflection of how much time an officer is out of service for each function,” and that officers are not penalized for low scores. Notations like “NEED IMPROVEMENT” and “UNACCEPTABLE” on zone evaluation charts, however, imply differently.
“It really feels like a moment of clarity,” Franklin describes the change in attendees understanding of the issues after the quota system is discussed, saying it moves the conversation “to where the heart of this entire discourse lies— at the roots and motivations of manufactured, systemic harms.” With time reflect and a deeper understanding of the underlying issues, community members answer the question, “what does community safety look like to you?”
“For so long, communities have been told what public safety means in a ‘top-down’ fashion,” Franklin says, “but rarely have they been given the opportunity to define what it means to them from the ‘bottom-up’.”
The project’s bottom-up approach doesn’t end in only defining public safety. Following Tuesday’s town hall, the project will move on to the second of three planned phases, which focuses on interactions between each of the six zones and looks at potential policies Atlanta may adopt to prevent the issued raised in the phase. The project plans a stakeholder symposium for its final phase, in which community members present the phase two policy recommendations to other community stakeholders, including elected officials.
The coming months determine what those policy proposals may look like, but they are likely to be drastically different than Atlanta’s current approach to public safety.
“Without spoiling the specifics,” says Franklin, “we can tell you that the overwhelming sentiment expressed are things that do not involve more police.”