Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and his Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams continued their bidding war on public safety Thursday, with Abrams proposing a big pay increase for state police and prison guards, while the Republican incumbent said Georgia will spend at least $8 million more on school safety after a Texas shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers.
Each is attacking the other on safety and violence, with Kemp saying Abrams has “championed a far-left agenda that puts officers at risk and families in danger," while a group of parents at a Democratic news conference slammed Kemp for loosening restrictions on guns in Georgia, alleging he puts their children more at risk.
Kemp and Abrams were already jousting on crime, guns and safety, with Abrams saying last week that she wants to roll back a series of gun rights expansions and focus less on punitive measures in Georgia.
Abrams countered the Republican narrative that she wants to defund the police by saying she wants to increase funding, saying she would pay state trooper cadets, prison guards and juvenile justice guards $50,000 a year. Now, a trooper cadet starts at just more than $40,000, an adult correctional officer at $38,040 and a juvenile correctional officer at $37,730. Abrams said it would take $182 million over two years to boost pay.
"We can improve recruitment and retention efforts while also improving community interactions with those who keep us safe,” Abrams said in a statement. The plan was first reported by Axios.
Kemp announced Thursday at a school safety conference in Columbus that the state is giving $2.6 million to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth to increase training capacity and classes available to school resource officers. He said the state will used $1 million in federal money to enhance school protection efforts statewide, including training staff and school resource officers.
Kemp said the training center is reviewing how it trains officers after the widely criticized police response in Uvalde, Texas, and will provide an additional six active shooter classes this year.
Local and state law enforcement agencies will be able to compete for $4.5 million in grants for school safety, use-of-force and de-escalation training, and mental health needs.
Finally, Kemp said the state is seeking $3 million in federal grants to increase training and improve school climate.
“While these are the latest measures we’re taking to ensure our children’s safety, I can assure you they will not be the last. I will work with anyone, even in the midst of a heated election cycle, to protect our students,” Kemp said in prepared remarks.
Kemp’s plan largely keeps with the response among many Republicans to mass shootings. They’ve refused to backpedal on gun rights, focusing on other measures.
Georgia provided $69 million in school safety grants in 2019, Kemp’s first year in office, guaranteeing every school $30,000. The governor also won funding to pay mental health professionals to work in high schools. Kemp spent $6 million of federal COVID-19 relief on student mental health.
Abrams on Thursday also called for a $25 million in grants for police departments and sheriff’s offices to raise pay and subsidize housing, saying local agencies would have to adopt state best practices to be eligible.
Her campaign said those best practices would include new standards on using force, de-escalating confrontations and intervening in crisis situations. She called for expanded efforts to have people trained in mental health and social services respond to some police calls, an effort Kemp and Republican lawmakers also support.
The Abrams campaign didn't respond to questions about other proposals made Thursday. They include a call to enforce guidelines on “community relations and transparency," an effort to require “accountability for unlawful law enforcement and correctional violence and misconduct” and building “community trust.”
Kemp’s campaign is airing ads saying that Abrams’ service as a board member of the Seattle-based Marguerite Casey Foundation proves she is insufficiently supportive of police.
“Abrams can’t hide from her own words and willingness to support and profit from Defund the Police organizations,” Kemp tweeted Thursday. “As long as Abrams serves on this board and backs their agenda, she cannot claim to support our men and women in blue.”
Abrams denies having ever advocated for cuts in police funding. The Kemp campaign provided two clips, including one where Abrams says, “We have to allocate resources, so yes.” The Abrams campaign says those clips are taken out of context.
Democrats again slammed Kemp on Thursday for repealing Georgia’s former requirement for a permit and separate state background check to carry a handgun in public.
“In a state where gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teens, Gov. Kemp is moving us in the wrong direction on gun safety," Valerie Calhoun said. "And that makes me worried every time I drop my kids off at school.”
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The Associated Press