Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has signed a law aimed at blocking “defund the police” efforts in larger Georgia cities and counties, saying it’s unfair to “condemn and demonize” police officers.
“This far-left movement will endanger our communities and our law enforcement officers and leave our most vulnerable at risk,” the Republican Kemp said Friday while speaking at the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office gun range in Bethlehem, flanked by a number of sheriffs and police chiefs.
The law would limit governments’ ability to cut police funding by more than 5% a year after Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County officials debated but rejected plans to cut or redirect spending following racial injustice protests last year. The murder of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis last year, launched demonstrations that were also fueled by the death of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.
The measure is a rejection of arguments by protesters nationwide that minority communities are suffering from overpolicing. The critics argue that governments should spend less on law enforcement and more on social services to address problems.
Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican who sponsored the bill, said lawmakers “won’t allow the defund the police movement to take a foothold in Georgia,” saying instead that local governments should be hiring more officers and paying them more to fight a spike in crime.
“Listen, I support local control, but when you have local governments that are out of control, I knew we had to act,” Gaines said of Athens-Clarke and Atlanta. “While we’re fortunate these proposals didn’t pass the first time around, we can’t let it happen.”
Most Democrats opposed restricting local control and said Republicans were grandstanding to score political points.
A similar measure has become law in Florida, while other states are considering them.
Defunding the police was debated extensively across the country, including during the presidential race, but not much action followed. An Associated Press review found that while some local governments trimmed police budgets, cuts were mostly modest. In Minneapolis, despite efforts to transform policing, the city is planning to spend $6.4 million to try to fill vacancies.
Under the Georgia measure, cities and counties can cut more than 5% if local revenues decline by more than that, and cities and counties with fewer than 25 officers are exempt.
There’s also a provision to allow governments to make larger capital expenditures for a year and not get locked in to higher levels of spending. Cities also could abolish their police forces and contract with counties for law enforcement if they guarantee equivalent levels of protection.
It’s unclear what the penalty would be for a government that defies the law. Gaines has said decreases of more than 5% could be challenged in court.