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Monday, March 31, 2008

Crime up 11% in Atlanta in 2007

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Good news for burglar alarm and pepper spray salesmen. Bad news for the rest of us.

Crime was up 11% city wide in 2007, according to statistics recently posted on the Atlanta Police Department web site.

Last year there were 129 homicides in Atlanta, up from 110 in 2006 and just 89 in 2005. The biggest increases were in robberies, up 21%, and burglaries, up 20%.

Each of the city's six police zones experienced overall crime increases with Zone 1 (west Atlanta), Zone 4 (southwest Atlanta) and Zone 6 (east Atlanta), experiencing the highest increases.

At-large council member Ceasar Mitchell says, outside of worries about the economy, increased crime is the issue he hears about most often from constituents.

Both Mitchell and at-large council member Mary Norwood blame police recruitment and retention problems for part of the increase, as well as the de-activation of the city’s narcotics squad for much of 2007 – a move that followed the killing of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during a botched November 2006 drug raid. However, both stop short of criticizing Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington or his leadership.

District 12 Council Member Joyce Sheperd, who represents several Southwest Atlanta neighborhoods in the Zone 4 police district, is more direct.

"He's not a community-oriented police chief. He's more of a stats man," Sheperd says.

"Even though we may not be happy with him, trying to look at someone else at this point is not practical," she says, blaming the city's budget crisis and what she calls the city's "strong-mayor/weak-council" structure, which means that any replacement might not survive in the post past the end of Mayor Franklin's term in January 2010.

"Who could we get to come to Atlanta at this point?" Sheperd asks.

Charles Pippin, a resident of Southwest Atlanta’s Capitol View neighborhood (in Sheperd's district), complains the city’s failure to increase the force size has left his neighborhood under-patrolled. Pippin and a group of neighbors formed a group called Capitol View Security Alliance last year. With membership dues, the group pays off-duty Atlanta police officers to patrol the neighborhood's streets.

“Why can’t the city hire more officers?” Pippin says. “They’ll say it’s money, but if you get people feeling secure about these neighborhoods, more people will move in and your tax base will increase.”

Neither the mayor’s office nor the police department were available for comment.

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