From the Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia will give out $100 million in federal COVID-19 money to bolster policing and reduce violence, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday.
Local agencies can apply for up to $1.5 million apiece if they can show that violent gun crimes and other violence got worse during the pandemic in their communities. State agencies can’t apply.
“With these funds, I am sending reinforcements to those on the front lines to help with recruitment and retention, crime reduction, violence intervention, and equipment and technology,” the Republican Kemp said in a statement. “I look forward to the positive impact these investments will have and expect local governments to take full advantage of these available funds to take the fight to the criminals.”
It’s the third announcement spending federal pandemic relief funds that Kemp has made in recent days as he runs for reelection, with more likely to come. The announcements infuriate Democrats, who say Kemp is using money he opposed to bolster his chances against Democrat Stacey Abrams.
“Once again, Brian Kemp is turning to funds provided by Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, which he called ‘a slap in the face for hardworking Georgians’ and urged Georgia’s U.S. senators to oppose,” state Democratic Party spokesperson Max Flugrath said in a statement.
Kemp has been hammering Abrams on the stump and in advertising, claiming that her statements and her membership on the boards of the Black Voices for Black Justice Fund and Marguerite Casey Foundation show she favored defunding the police. Abrams says she does not support defunding the police. In a public safety plan released in June, Abrams said she actually supports increasing police funding, proposing to raise starting pay for state trooper cadets, prison guards and juvenile justice guards to $50,000, at a cost of $182 million over two years.
Abrams also called for $25 million in grants to raise officer pay and subsidize housing, saying local agencies would have to adopt state best practices to be eligible.
Kemp rolled out endorsements from 102 of Georgia’s 159 sheriffs in June and was endorsed Thursday by the Fraternal Order of Police. While Kemp touts his “back the blue” stance, state documents make clear that much of the money could go to other programs that aim to reduce violence that Abrams supports.
One use of the grants announced Thursday would be to hire back for public safety positions that were eliminated or went unfilled between January 2020 and March 2021. Agencies could also hire more officers than they had before the pandemic if they meet certain federal qualifications.
The money can also go for items including hiring outreach workers to try to persuade people who are violence-prone to choose other ways of addressing their problems, according to a document published by the state Office of Planning and Budget. For example, some hospital-based programs reach out to shooting victims and their family and friends to try to deter them from seeking revenge. Abrams supports violence intervention programs in her plan.
The grant document also spotlights programs that respond to certain police calls with mental health professionals and other non-police personnel. Georgia lawmakers this year passed a bill requiring the state’s 23 community service boards to provide mental health co-responders to any local law enforcement agency that wants them, and the grants could fund that program.
The grants could also be used to pay for equipment and technology that allows police to respond to rising gun violence.
Applications are due Nov. 18 and state officials are likely to decide who gets the money in January. Funds have to be spent by Oct. 31, 2026.