Carson Bonner, Campus Carrier deputy new editor
In an effort to combat violent crime that he said increased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia governor Brian Kemp has dedicated $100 million to law enforcement funds. This decision will allow state police departments to apply for up to $1.5 million each to try to increase agency staffing and enhance violence interventions programs.
The administration of funds will be through grant applications, where state departments will demonstrate a need for funding by identifying specific issues they have and developing specific solutions for them through use of the funding.
“I am always supportive of measures that serve to support the increase of professionalism in law enforcement as a whole,” Berry College Chief of Police Ryan Chesley said. “[Also] initiatives that bolster the resources with which agencies across the state can draw upon to serve their communities.”
Kemp has pledged this funding not only to fund law enforcement agencies, but also to provide $1000 bonuses to officers, jail and prison guards, firefighters and other first responders across the state. According to a press release, he hopes that these bonuses, as well as the general increase in funding, will serve as a measure to combat staffing shortages.
“In my opinion, financial resources alone are not enough to combat any problem,” Chesley said. “Successful progress requires the strategic and careful application of these financial resources towards projects, training and programs that can be developed and sustained with a meaningful impact on the issues.”
The money distributed to police departments through this fund are being pulled from the American Rescue Plan, and the State Fiscal Recovery Fund. Since this fund was generated by Department of the Treasury in 2021, Brian Kemp has made comments that point towards his disapproval of it. He has stated that the $1.9 trillion plan is not working in the favor of Georgians, however, he has used the funding to distribute over $1.2 billion through Medicaid, food stamps, welfare programs and high-speed internet state-wide.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams claims Kemp has used federal funding he opposed in order to garner favor from voters before the election. Abrams has taken the position of funding the police, as she believes that higher pay for law enforcement leads to fewer negative interactions and fewer use of force incidents.
“Abrams has no intention of defunding the police,” Assistant Professor of Political Science Abbie Vegter said. “Really, the literal interpretation of the term “defund the police” is one that very few people actually agree with. While Democrats place a bigger emphasis on alternative programs where the police may not be necessary, such as with mental health crises where a social worker would be more needed than a police officer, very few of them would actually say there should be no police.”
The decision for such a drastic increase in funding of law enforcement, while potentially beneficial from a law enforcement perspective, is viewed by some as a political move in an effort to pull election support in Kemp’s direction.
“Kemp is facing a relatively contentious gubernatorial election this November,” Vegter said. “Part of the reason for him talking about the police and talking about police budgets is to bring that to the center of the conversation in the midterm elections. His base is really energized by efforts to back the police and he’s really trying to capitalize on that.”
An issue that Kemp may face, however, is the rise of democratic voters in Georgia. Since he defeated Stacey Abrams in the 2018 gubernatorial election, almost 1.3 million people have registered to vote in the state. Although voters do not register to a party, it is estimated based on demographics that 45% of those voters are Democrats and 27% are Republicans, according to NBC News. This increase in democratic voters could give Abrams an edge and is likely the reason Kemp has been going against his previously stated disapproval of the Relief Fund to use it to fund social programs and boost local economies.
“While Georgia has historically been a more conservative state, in recent elections, there has been a clear left leaning,” Vegter said. “We voted a Democrat into office, we have 6 of our 14 representatives as Democrats. Kemp is trying to maintain his position by appealing to both sides; he is using COVID relief funds for welfare policies, but also is using them to fund the police. He is probably hoping that funding both the police while also funding social programs will appeal to the left and the right.”
Although this funding is accessible to state police departments, private college police departments like Berry’s are not eligible to receive these funds or trainings that public agencies receive. These trainings include Peace Officers Annuity and Benefit, a supplemental retirement program, assisted academy tuition for new officers, or 2021 Governor Kemp’s Public Safety Officials and First Responders Supplemental Grant which provided $1000 to first responders who served the public during the pandemic.
“It is my hope in future initiatives that this particular gap in resource availability be addressed,” Chesley said.
As of Sept. 1, police departments in Georgia are able to apply for grants to increase funding. The $1.5 million grants will be put into action in the coming months, and. According to Kemp, these grants will be a major stepping stone in the fight against crime in the state of Georgia.