State troopers helped keep order during protests at the state capitol last summer.
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State troopers helped keep order during protests at the state capitol last summer.

Credit: Beau Evans/Capitol Beat News Service

Georgia’s top elected leaders used a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday to thank state troopers for their contributions during last summer’s civil unrest and during the more recent crime wave.

“I don’t believe it’s ever been harder to wear the badge than it is now,” Gov. Brian Kemp told an audience of troopers before turning a shovel on a new $55 million Georgia Department of Public Safety (DPS) headquarters building in southeast Atlanta. “You continue to do the job with honor, integrity and respect.”

State troopers joined forces with the Capitol Police and Atlanta Police Department last summer to maintain order during protests in downtown Atlanta after a white police office in Minneapolis murdered George Floyd, a Black man, and again after the fatal shooting in Atlanta of another Black man, Rayshard Brooks, by a white officer.

Troopers also are participating in the DPS’ Crime Suppression Unit, which to date has resulted in 9,000 police stops, 6,500 citations, the serving of 140 outstanding arrest warrants and the impoundment of more than 500 vehicles.

“The last 15 to 18 months have presented challenges none of us could have foreseen,” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said. “[You] have filled important gaps.”

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston reiterated a pledge he made recently to earmark $75 million next year to beef up the DPS as well as mental health services in Georgia. The money would be used to hire 20 additional troopers and bolster staff at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the attorney general’s office and the law enforcement wing of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

The new DPS headquarters building will replace a building dedicated in 1957, just 20 years after the state agency was founded in 1937.

“It will bring the Department of Public Safety into the 21st century and be a great source of pride,” said Rep. Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon, who served as the agency’s commissioner from 2004 until he was elected to the General Assembly in 2012.

Kemp said a memorial will be installed at the new headquarters building honoring the 27 state troopers who have died in the line of duty.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Capitol Beat News Service.