As Thomas Wheatley points out, there are differing opinions about whether crime is up or down in the city. There’s also disagreement about just how many officers are on the streets fighting crime. Clearly Atlanta’s budget woes will be a big campaign issue, but shouldn’t crime be right up at the top of the list as well? I hope so, because it’s not clear to me that Chief Pennington has made any headway.
“Crime has been dramatically reduced and there are more officers on our streets than ever before,” Pennington wrote. “Since 1990 the number of violent crimes in Atlanta has decreased from 75,793 in that one year to 43,828 currently.”
According to the most recent data from APD Zones 5 and 6, which include Midtown, Poncey-Highland and surrounding neighborhoods, crime is actually down compared to last year.
But residents of intown Atlanta say those statements and statistics don’t mesh with reality. Violent crime, they say, has grown more frequent and brazen, a worrisome trend at a time when the department is actually scaling back officers to offset the city’s $70 million budget shortfall.
Scott Kreher, the Atlanta police union president, disagrees with Pennington’s portrait of the APD, particularly the chief’s statement that there are more patrol officers now than ever.
Kreher says Pennington’s claim that there are 1,781 officers patrolling the community includes support staff, detectives and officers stationed at the airport – in other words, cops who aren’t working the streets.
What’s more, the Atlanta police force – which has been stretched thin in recent years – is being stretched even thinner. Last week, the city announced officers would have to take an extra unpaid day off every two weeks.
At a press conference, Deputy Chief George Turner acknowledged that the changes will cause some shortages in services, but said the department would diligently work to offset those shortages.
Kreher says the cut is yet another misstep by the city – one that will weaken morale and hinder the force’s ability to retain experienced officers. In the short term, it will mean 150 fewer badges patrolling the streets every day.