News Conference Story
News Conference Story

News Conference Story


March 18, 2022

By Melanie Velasquez

Mayor Girtz attends a news conference hosted by Grady College at the University of Georgia on Friday, March 18. Girtz addresses his mayoral campaign, COVID, police policies, and the prospect of lessening marijuana possession fines. (Photo/ Melanie Velasquez;

Athens, GA—Mayor Kelly Girtz of Athens-Clarke County addressed criminal justice reform in a news conference hosted by Grady College at the University of Georgia on Friday, March 18. He said he intends to continue to increase the salary and training requirements of police officers. 

According to Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, the current starting salary for a detention officer and deputy sheriff is annually $39,700 with a $3,000 hiring incentive. 

Girtz said in an example there is an officer that recently came to Athens that is post-certified and is making $50,000 a year, but is required to partake in additional de-escalation training.

Girtz said, “We want our police officers to be positively engaged with the community and take a humane approach to their work.” 

De-escalation training, Crisis Intervention (CIT), and Integrating Communications Assessments and Tactics (ICAT) are all required for police officers, according to ACCPD, Athens-Clarke County Police Department. According to Athens-Clarke Police Department’s transparency website, 45.34% of their training was de-escalation training in 2020. 

Girtz said that he hopes to reduce penalties of marijuana possession. He said that in other localities in Georgia there is a local ordinance violation rather than a state code violation.

“Our police department has dramatically de-prioritized marijuana possession,” said Girtz.  

In accordance with Georgia law, the current penalty for being caught with less than one ounce of marijuana for personal use is up to $1,000 in fines and/or a prison term for up to one year. If caught with more than one ounce, a person using it for personal use will be charged with a felony with accompanying fines and prison term. 

Girtz said, “The only marijuana arrests that have happened in the last two years were marijuana arrests that happened to be in conjunction with a violent crime.” 

In February according to a Athens-Banner Herald article, an Athens apartment was raided by police in which they arrested three people and seized $52,000 in cash, guns and drugs such as marijuana. 

Athens-Clarke County Police Department Lieutenant Shaun Barnett said that they will arrest those who have intent to sell marijuana.

The mayoral election in Athens-Clarke County will take place on May 24.

Why I Wrote The Story…

I wrote this story since it was my first news conference and is newsworthy since it is in midst of a mayoral election that will take place on May 24, 2022. Mayor Girtz who is running once again provided key insight of his platform and what he hopes to accomplish if elected. I had to take quick notes, perform tasks such as tweeting, and ask questions in front of other journalist. It helped me learn how to multitask all the while calming my nerves in front of many students.