Democratic nominee for Georgia governor Stacey Abrams is hitting back at critics with her latest campaign announcement.
Abrams has proposed increasing pay for state and local law enforcement officers and investing in more training and support for law enforcement agencies.
The political frontrunner challenging Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in the November general election said it could improve safety outcomes, community-police relations and officer retention and reduce use-of-force incidents.
“Law enforcement are often paid less than a living wage, and that is wrong,” Abrams wrote on June 23 on Twitter. “We must raise pay for officers and address violent crime as we work to build community trust and foster law enforcement accountability.”
Abrams’ plan announced on Twitter comes as her opponent Kemp accused her of supporting the “defund police movement” that rose out of the Summer 2020 protests against police brutality spurred by George Floyd‘s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police. Kemp released a campaign video the day before showing an edited clip of Abrams appearing to agree with defunding the police.
In the snippet used in Kemp’s ad, CNN’s Alisyn Camerota asks Abrams if she supports the movement.
“So that’s yes to some defunding?” Camerota asked.
“We have to reallocate resources — so yes,” Abrams said in the clip.
Abrams’ opponent, Kemp, has received endorsements from law enforcement early in his reelection campaign, including official backing from the Police Benevolent Association of Georgia and more than 100 local sheriffs.
On Monday, days after Abrams announced her proposal, 101 Georgia sheriffs released a joint statement condemning the Democrat candidate and doubling down on support for Kemp.
“Over the last four years, Governor Kemp and his family stood shoulder to shoulder with the men and women serving in Georgia’s law enforcement community,” the statement says.
“Working alongside our departments, Governor Kemp has championed legislation to recruit and retain more officers into the profession, strengthen penalties for criminals and help keep Georgia’s streets safe, and prevent rogue local governments from stripping critical funding and resources from police.”
They accused Abrams of supporting policies that “put criminals back on the street” and of opposing legislation to crack down on human trafficking” while she was a state lawmaker.
“In stark contrast, Stacey Abrams has repeatedly shown complete disdain for law enforcement and the risk we take every day, putting our lives on the line to serve our communities,” the statement says.
“Ms. Abrams actively serves on the governing board of – and has profited from – an anti-police organization which openly advocates for abolishing prisons and stripping local police departments of their funding.”
Abrams’ campaign said the clips were taken out of context. Newsweek reports the footage was retrieved from Abrams’ 2020 interview following the police killing of Rayshard Brooks.
Although Abrams said she would reallocate some funding, she does not lend full backing to an effort to defund police, calling it a “media narrative that seeks to make overly simplistic decisions,” reports show.
Kemp’s campaign ad also called out Abrams for being a board member of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which has advocated for defunding the police on social media and awarded grants to other organizations that promoted the movement. However, Abrams and her campaign said she has no control over the foundation’s grant approvals.
“I do not, and have never said, and have never supported defunding the police,” Abrams told Axios, accusing Kemp of “cherry-picking information.”
Abrams’ proposal would raise the base pay for state troopers, adult and juvenile correctional officers and community supervision officers to $50,000 a year and allocate grants to local agencies to increase officer pay. She also wants to secure mental health support and upgraded training for officers.
The Democrat estimates the raises and grants would cost the state $116 million and can be accomplished without raising taxes. She also believes larger salaries would lead “to fewer negative interactions and fewer use of force incidents” and better officer recruitment and retention.
Abrams’ plan also addresses “the erosion of trust in law enforcement in our communities,” she said.
“Most officers strive to do their best, but those who commit misconduct must be held accountable,” Abrams said. “In particular, the killing of young Black men who posed no threat cannot be ignored.”
Her plan would develop guidelines for how police departments manage community relations and transparency and create a statewide database of officers dismissed for violations.
Some Democrats have accused Abrams of being a traitor on social media, while conservatives called the plan a campaign ploy.
Kemp has proposed and approved bonus pay and raises for state workers and an additional salary boost for juvenile corrections officers in the state’s recent budgets. Some of the funding is a byproduct of an increase in state revenue stemming from an injection of federal coronavirus aid.
Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan also successfully pushed legislation that gives Georgians tax breaks for donating money to their local law enforcement agencies. But Abrams insisted that it is not enough.
She also fanned off criticism that the plan may alienate her from progressive voters. “People don’t care about your party,” she said. “They care about their lives.”
Terry Norris, director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, said Abrams’ proposal puts forth use-of-force, accountability and de-escalation policies that already have been implemented among local enforcement agencies in Georgia.
“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.
Norris also warned it might be difficult to find “a mechanism to generate revenues at the local level to pay sheriffs, sheriff deputies and first responders” and sustain grants.