The Atlanta Police Department (APD) spends more money on policing than most major cities – but for worse outcomes, according to the Police Scorecard, a national database that assesses U.S. policing for over 16,000 city and county law enforcement agencies.
Atlanta’s overall score is 29%, meaning the city scores worse than 71% of cities with populations of 250,000 or more for its levels of police violence, accountability, racial bias and other outcomes.
Data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe, who developed the Police Scorecard, recently made the keynote address for a grassroots symposium hosted by the Southern Center for Human Rights, called “Pain and Power: Confronting Police Violence in Atlanta.” The Aug. 19 event was part of the group’s year-long Community Keeps Community Safe project to find solutions to police violence.
Police departments with higher scores use less force, make fewer arrests for low-level offenses, solve murder cases more often, hold officers more accountable and spend less on policing overall, according to the Police Scorecard project. The database scores U.S. police departments in four main categories: funding, accountability, violence and approach to law enforcement.
CATCH UP ON PART I
The data from the Police Scorecard starkly contrasts with the APD’s ever-increasing budget. For the funding category, the APD scored only 26%. This means the city of Atlanta spent more on police than almost three-quarters of other big police departments during the 2010 to 2020 time period for the data.
Funding the APD is the city of Atlanta’s largest single general expenditure, making up 31.3% of its $790 million general fund budget. This year, the city increased the APD budget by $11.7 million to $247 million. Most of that – $202 million – goes to salaries. But is the money really making a difference in improving policing outcomes?
Despite the APD’s calls for more officers and more funding to hire and retain them, the department actually employs significantly more officers than in similarly sized cities, according to the Police Scorecard. The APD had 34.6 officers per 10,000 residents in 2021. That number was higher than for 89% of other U.S. police departments – and well above the national average for major cities.
Relatedly, the APD had a higher arrest rate for low-level offenses than 85% of other departments – making 33 arrests for every 1,000 residents (68,656 arrests) from 2013 to 2021. What’s more, Black people were 14.6 times more likely to be arrested for a low-level office than a white person, and Latinx people were arrested at a 3.5 times higher rate. That data contributed to the APD’s very low 29% score for its approach to law enforcement.
The Police Scorecard tracked 24 killings by APD officers from 2013 to 2021. That was lower than for 63% of law enforcement agencies nationally. However, 90% of Atlantans experiencing police violence after an arrest were Black, even though Black people made up only 51% of Atlanta’s population during that period. What’s more, APD officers killed more unarmed people per arrest than 71% of departments over that period.
“Nationwide, a black person is three times more likely to be killed by police than a white person,” Sinyangwe said in his keynote address.
“In Atlanta, a black person is 12 times more likely to be killed by police. In Chicago, it’s 25 and it’s 28 in Minneapolis,” Sinyangwe added.
Community activists and organizers in Atlanta are using the Police Scorecard and a companion database, Mapping Police Violence, also developed by Sinyangwe, to investigate the APD’s performance and the nature of its interventions with police.
As part of the Southern Center’s Community Keeps Community Safe project, community experts and other participants have proposed solutions that they believe could significantly reduce police violence in Atlanta.
Statistically, most police killings in 2022 occurred when officers responded to non-violent and non-threatening calls. Fully 58% of incidents where police killed someone happened during traffic stops, mental health or welfare checks, and involved non-threatening people.
These programs use alternatives to policing to decrease both the number and violence of the interventions that police officers make in the community.
Many of these proposed solutions – like having counselors instead of police respond to 911 calls for people experiencing mental health emergencies – have been piloted in other cities, like Portland, Denver, and San Francisco. Each of these cities has programs where mental health providers respond instead of police.
This year, the APD plans to hire six mental health professionals for a co-responder pilot program. Their role will be to answer mental health calls with police officers, aid in de-escalating the situations, and make sure people receive care.