Crime Rate Up or Down? Thoughts From Around Atlanta

Is the crime rate up or down in Atlanta?  The Atlanta Journal Constitution, echoing City Hall, continues to vote “down.”  Their editorial board is sticking to the argument that crime is a perception problem, though they have thankfully stopped mocking victims:

[S]tatistics alone don’t stir many souls toward either fear or a sense of security.  What does get people going are violent shocks to their everyday world. Things like finding your home’s been ransacked, or facing a gunman on the sidewalk. . . If people don’t feel safe, a computer’s worth of data and spreadsheets likely won’t persuade them otherwise. That’s where human contact and conversation comes in, starting at the top and spreading to cops on the beat.  Perception can trump reality if people’s emotions keep them from believing that crime really is on the run.

Meanwhile, Marcia Killingsworth reminds readers that crime isn’t really down at all in some parts of the city:

Just to refresh your memories, here are some crime stats, beginning with some[] from an AJC piece on February 8 – six months ago – that should have burst Shirley [Franklin’s] double bubble:
  • In East Lake and part of Kirkwood, violent crime jumped 53 percent.
  • Robberies went up in four beats and made a 71 percent jump from 2007 to 2008 in the East Lake/Kirkwood area.  (Atlanta police point to the explosion of two crimes; burglars kicking in doors to get to flat-screen televisions and thieves swiping GPS units from cars.)
  • East Atlanta has been hit the hardest. Since 2006, home burglaries ballooned by 147 percent. Other thefts, classified as larcenies, jumped by 87 percent.

In our little southside neighborhood of Ormewood Park, between 2007 and 2008, burglaries nearly doubled, 67 burglaries in 2007 and 125 in 2008.

Atlanta Unfiltered has crime ticking up dramatically, too.

Stephanie Ramage at Sunday Paper argues that not only are crime statistics being cooked, but that Chief Pennington had a similar culinary history in New Orleans, where he worked last (before being brought to Atlanta through the efforts of Mayor Franklin’s now-deceased ex-husband):

APD Chief Richard Pennington was lauded in New Orleans for bringing down the number of that city’s reported incidents of crime, yet shortly after Pennington left to become Atlanta’s chief in 2002, some high-ranking officers were fired for tampering with New Orleans’ crime reports.  Pennington brought his numbers game with him to the APD which already had its own shameful history of cooking the books. As reported by the New Orleans Times Picayune on Oct. 24, 2003, “a review of more than 700 reports written in the 1st District from January 2002 to June 2003 found 42 percent of crimes were incorrectly classified and another 17 percent were ‘questionable.’ More than 200 of the downgraded incidents found in the sample studied were serious crimes that included violence or threats…”

Ramage cites Atlanta neighborhood websites where residents are busy documenting individual incidents of police failing to take reports that reflect the real nature of crimes:

According to recent postings on its neighborhood website, citizens in Kirkwood have reported break-ins only to have the police discourage them from filing reports (go to “Message Boards,” then “Public Safety” and select the thread on “Crime Reporting and the APD.”)  One resident, J. C., sums up the trend by enumerating previous postings by other residents:

  • “#1 S. W. – ‘When we called again the next day, both the 911 operator and the officer that responded to the call kept telling us that we didn’t need to make a report unless we were making an insurance claim.’
  • #2 S. C. – ‘A house of my client was broken into on Cottage Grove last week and it was only after becoming insistant that the officer pulled the already completed case number card out of her pocket and gave it to the owner.’
  • #3 J. C. – ‘The KSP [Kirkwood Security Patrol] officer, as usual, was awesome to us, but the police officer APD sent really tried to dissuade us from filing a report.’
  • #4 A KNO Board Member – Had a shed break-in, and the officer was unwilling to file a report until they insisted.”

C. continues, “These are not isolated incidents, and four independent occurrences indicate to me a larger problem at hand. I truly think this is a systemic problem from the top down, namely Franklin/Pennington, and not a bottom up problem from the officer level.”

Ramage concludes:

A police officer in fear of losing his job told me last week, on condition of anonymity, “The current administration says if a car window is broken and nothing is taken, it’s ‘damage to property,’ not ‘entering auto.’ Unfortunately, central records ultimately has final say-so on how an incident is classified.” That is a quote, word for word.

How many crimes-in-progress get interrupted this way?  In my old neighborhood, it sounds to me, quite conservatively, that it must be at least three a week.

Just because people are stopping some criminals in the act, however, doesn’t mean the offenders are not out there preying on the innocent.  And the fact that civilians have taken on the task they are paying police to do is dangerous.  I find it amazing that elected officials, academicians, and many journalists are utterly incurious about these factors.  Their position — that people have no right to complain about crime if the crime rate (allegedly) has dropped — drips with presumption and contempt.

In cities like Los Angeles and New York, where people know the Chief of Police has their backs, the discussion is about stopping crime, not denying crime, whether or not the statistics are heading in the right direction.  In contrast, the utter corrosion of trust in Atlanta’s elected officials is not the result of people imagining non-existent danger.  The corrosion of trust has occurred because Pennington and Franklin are treating residents with non-imaginary contempt.  Here is Pennington in the AJC:

We have enough resources. . . Since I joined the force crime is down 25 percent.  Where is the chief?  Working hard for you and employing 30-plus years of professional training and experience on the job.

Well, right off the bat, as they say, he isn’t working hard for anyone, and he refuses to prove that he even shows up for work, which casts the rest of what he says in that editorial in a questionable light.

In response, Atlantans Together Against Crime (ATAC) founder Kyle Keyser points out that it took months of protests and lobbying to get the APD to put more officers on the streets, months while City Hall ignored residents’ requests:

Atlanta is getting more police officers and, specifically, more foot patrols. The city will start focusing on gangs — upping the Gang Task Force to 25 officers — and will do “sweeps” in areas of gang activity. They will also start enforcing the 11 p.m. curfew for city youth. Pennington admitted that criminals do not fear the APD. These measures are, in part, to send the signal: “We’re here and we’re watching you.”

Keyser sets the right tone by praising the Mayor and Chief for their recent stirring, but no more than is warranted.  Such is democracy, in an election year, in a city where residents know precisely how hard it is to get their leaders to stop denying the realities of crime on the streets:

The merit and efficacy of these measures will be for us to decide together, as they work alongside the efforts we’ve been taking in our own communities. We’ll either see the added benefits on our streets or we won’t. . .

To city hall I say, “Good morning!” Yes, they’ve woken up but they’ve been asleep too long. When I’m stirred awake by the sirens of six cop cars chasing down eight masked perpetrators in my driveway — as I was this past weekend — sleep isn’t an option.

It shouldn’t be for my city leadership either.


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