Jun 23, 2022 - News

Exclusive: Stacey Abrams wants to fund the police

Photo illustration of a collage of Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp over the Georgia State capitol.
Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photos: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg and Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images

Stacey Abrams says if elected governor of Georgia she will do something Republicans have insisted she won't: fund the police.

Driving the news: As the second prong of a public safety and criminal justice reform platform first shared with Axios, Abrams is proposing to raise the base pay for Georgia state troopers, adult and juvenile correctional officers and community supervision officers to $50,000 per year.

  • She also wants to create a grant program to help local departments raise pay and change the state’s law enforcement training standards and accountability controls.

Why it matters: Taken together with her plan to institute gun control measures, Abrams argues Democrats can do both: "We have to support law enforcement, but we also have to have meaningful accountability."

Flashback: Many Americans' views on funding for police have shifted since the summer of 2020, when the Atlanta City Council nearly voted to withhold its police budget, and some Democratic politicians have responded.

The big picture: Abrams, in an interview with Axios, said she believes "higher pay leads to fewer negative interactions and fewer use of force incidents."

  • "When we make smart investments in our law enforcement, we get better officer recruitment, we get better retention, we get better interaction with the community and we get a safer Georgia," she said.
  • She said she isn't worried about alienating progressive voters with the plan: "People don't care about your party. They care about their lives."

The other side: Since taking office, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has pushed for multiple pay increases for law enforcement, including a $5,000 raise for all state employees last year, two correctional officer raises and a $1,000 bonus for law enforcement and firefighters this year. He has endorsements from most of Georgia’s sheriffs.

  • Abrams argues this isn't enough, pointing out that a Department of Juvenile Justice officer's base pay is just under $38,000 with a 90% turnover rate.

The intrigue: This week, Kemp's campaign released an ad accusing Abrams of supporting the "defund the police" movement in a past television appearance and has attacked her position on the board of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which has included that rhetoric in social media posts.

Yes, but: "I do not, and have never said, and have never supported defunding the police," Abrams told Axios, accusing Kemp of "cherry-picking information." She emphasized that as a board member she has no control over the foundation's grants.

Details: Abrams says her policy team estimates the raises and grants would cost $116 million. And she is confident it's possible to do that without raising taxes.

  • "Georgia has the money. What we have not had is the leadership willing to invest the money," she said.

Plus, Abrams plans to invest in additional training, set new guidelines for police policies regarding community relations, fortify training standards on use of force, de-escalation and crisis intervention, and incentivize local departments to adopt the guidelines through state funding.

  • She's also proposing a statewide database of law enforcement officers dismissed for violations.

Context: Terry Norris, director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, told Axios that Georgia already has some of the best use-of-force and de-escalation training standards in the country and that Georgia's P.O.S.T. Council already tracks officers' violations. "I hate to say we can't do more because there's always room for improvement. But we have a lot of eyes on what we do now," he said.

  • While he applauds further investment in "underfunded" agencies, especially state adult and juvenile correctional officers, he cautioned there's been a long-term struggle to find "a mechanism to generate revenues at the local level to pay sheriffs, sheriff deputies and first responders."
  • And grants, he pointed out, still need to be sustained after the grant period ends.

Between the lines: James Williams, a retired Albany Police Department officer now with Dougherty County School Police Department and an Abrams supporter, told Axios he thinks the plan would "help a lot" with retention and recruitment. He added that some police practices have to change to rebuild trust.

  • "We've got to have a diverse generation [of new officers]," Williams, a P.O.S.T instructor said. "You have to be able to adapt to change to that culture."

Of note: Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan just passed a bipartisan tax credit program to boost local law enforcement pay through donations to qualified law enforcement foundations. Abrams countered the state needs to take a stronger role to make a bigger impact.

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