LaGrange Approves Funding Requests to Address Recent Murders
The LaGrange City Council approved a set of funding requests in an effort to help reduce recent violent crime trends during their meeting on Tuesday. During the last 12 months, the city has seen seven homicides, the highest since 1997, sparking demands for the city and the police department to address violence.
The council approved funding requests for two community groups with programs to address youth violence and increased funding for both the District Attorney’s Office and the LaGrange Police Department.
The community groups, Alternatives to Violence and Greater Achievement – Blueprint for Leadership, made requests for funding during presentations at the council’s work session. Each of the groups asked for $25,000 to help support their programs aimed at reducing youth violence. Both programs have had success in other communities in Georgia.
The funding for the Alternatives to Violence program was approved unanimously with the council agreeing to provide $15,900 through the fiscal year and up to $25,000 in total.
Funding for the other group, Greater Achievement – Blueprint for Leadership, was hotly debated after Councilman Mark Mitchell pointed out Facebook posts made by the group’s founder that allegedly referred to police as terrorists. Councilman Willie Edmondson disagreed with Mitchell’s assessment, noting that he believed the posts had been mischaracterized. Ultimately, the council voted 5-1 to provide $25,000 to the group with only Mitchell in opposition.
The council also agreed to increase the city’s annual funding toward the Coweta Circuit District Attorney’s Office from $75,000 to $100,000. Only Council Member Nathan Gaskin opposed the measure, citing disagreements with the way the office handles gang charges.
Council members unanimously approved funding for the LaGrange Police Department to hire five additional officers. Police Chief Lou Dekmar said that it takes about five officers to adequately patrol a single area for 24 hours. The department was already short three budgeted officers, so they are looking to hire a total of eight new officers. New officers are paid about $58,500 per year including benefits.
Dekmar also spoke on the increased homicide rate, noting that violent crime rates have increased across the country during the pandemic.
Dekmar placed much of the blame on the courts and parole boards, saying many of the suspects and victims involved in the recent murders had previously been arrested many times. He brought files of several individuals involved in the murders that had previously been arrested, but were given bond or released on probation or parole. The individuals involved had been arrested at least 21 times, including one that was arrested 38 times.
He believes many of these violent offenders were being released in order to reduce jail population due to COVID-19.
Dekmar said the LaGrange Police Department has long worked toward alternatives to incarceration and to give offenders a second chance, but noted they can only go so far.
“There’s a big difference between second chances and 21 chances or 33 chances,” said Dekmar.
Mayor Jim Thornton noted that the city has no authority over the courts or parole boards, but suggested that the city approve a resolution to ask the state to reconsider the ramifications of current early release protocols.
The next regular LaGrange City Council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9, at 5:30 p.m.
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