MAKING THE MOST OF ATLANTA POLICE

Last week, the Atlanta Police Department began collecting citizen input for its zone and beat redesign. Town hall meetings on the matter will continue through March (see below).

The redesign is based on “calls for service,” essentially calls to 911 that require police response. The goal is to use the recent influx of recruits to shrink each beat—the area patrolled by an officer—and add some beats, so that police can respond to calls more quickly.

In offering up a draft of the redesign last month, APD included the total number of calls for each of its six zones. But, the kinds of calls cops are responding to is every bit as important as the number of calls. Some calls take longer than others. The calls are so varied, from checking on elderly residents to trees falling, to rapes, robberies, and “disorderly children,” that simply slapping a total number on a zone when determining its manpower needs doesn’t make much sense. And maybe that’s not what APD will ultimately do, but recent events suggest that those in charge may not be matching manpower to the type of calls the zones are getting.

Friday night, for example, there were 13 rookies working in Zone 6. That’s a lot of newbies in what may be the most complex of Atlanta’s zones: Z6 spans the entire socio-economic spectrum, from striking poverty in Thomasville to the posh areas around Ansley Mall and Morningside. The large influx of fresh recruits had older officers feeling edgy as they were stretched thin to supervise.

The problem of appropriately matching manpower-to-need isn’t limited to unleashing rookies in large numbers, it also cropped up in January when APD organized a deluge of transfers. Among them was that of Investigator Scott Priestly from Zone 4, the southwest corner of the city, to Zone 1, which includes the neighborhoods of Vine City and English Avenue as well as the west side of the area around the Georgia Dome.

Priestly was recognized last week by the International Association of Special Investigation Units for his work in solving auto theft cases. The IASIU specializes in investigating insurance fraud. Priestly was honored with its public service award for his high number of cleared cases. That’s not surprising given that he worked in Zone 4, the city’s hands-down highest ranking area for auto theft. Last year, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 1, according to information provided by the APD, Zone 4 saw 1,092 vehicle theft cases. What is surprising, however, is that Priestly, a veteran whose career has focused on solving auto theft, was transferred to Zone 1 which has the second lowest number of auto thefts in the city—only 661 between January and September of last year. Priestly’s recognition for a particular kind of crime-solving draws attention to his transfer, but he likely isn’t the only cop who got shoved out of an assignment that fit his skill set.

When it comes to investigators, the APD has a bigger problem: Chief Richard Pennington’s decentralization of investigations. Under Pennington, the department moved investigators into the zones, intending to make them work more closely with neighborhoods, and that remains the configuration today. It matters in terms of crime-solving because with investigators divided by zone they don’t always recognize that a crime trend in, say, Downtown, is probably being perpetrated by the same crew responsible for it in East Atlanta. After all, the detectives may be split by zone, but the thugs operate citywide.

WHOSE BEAT IS IT, ANYWAY?

APD is making a concerted effort to include community input in its zone redesign over the protestations of some officers who say it should be up to the police to decide how to distribute personnel.

With that in mind, please get a look at the following chart I’ve compiled based on APD calls for service (chosen randomly for the sake of variety) from Jan. 1, 2010 to Sept. 1, 2010. These numbers are an education in the character of Atlanta. And, in the midst of more somber issues, they raise some really strange questions: Why do people scream so much more in Midtown than in Grant Park? Why are there so many more demented people in the southwest part of the city than Downtown where they seem more visible? And why does the number of peeping toms in Zone 6 more than double that in Buckhead/Brookhaven or the southwest corner of the city? And who gets charged with “disorderly children”?

RANDOM CALLS FOR SERVICE FROM JAN. 1, 2010  TO SEPT. 1, 2010

TYPE OF CALL ZONE 1

English Avenue, Vine City. Atlanta University Center and area west of Georgia Dome

ZONE 2

Buckhead, Brookhaven

ZONE 3

Grant Park, Mechanicsville, Pittsburgh, Capital View, Mount Zion Road area

ZONE 4

SWAtl,   West End, Cascade

ZONE 5

Downtown, part of Midtown, Home Park, Westside

ZONE 6

Thomasville, Kirkwood, East Atlanta, part of Midtown

Transporting person to homeless shelter 3 3 13 10 100 4
Check on elderly resident 140 147 151 199 174 142
Tree down 47 78 46 84 17 68
Abandoned vehicle 705 334 937 703 332 586
Recovered Auto 164 86 454 258 120 229
Kidnapping or Hostage 14 8 17 12 12 4
Disorderly Children 653 154 846 713 229 439
Disorderly children with weapon 31 4 29 31 1 8
Demented person 387 98 362 428 419 188
Shots Fired 868 227 931 892 300 701
Public drunk 155 211 168 196 599 286
Fight 8,835 2,747 9,062 9,812 8,073 4,659
Audible alarm 4,299 12,240 6,102 8,791 5,176 7,849
Animal call 352 120 446 351 96 168
Auto Accident 1643 4474 2445 2411 5764 3028
Business Robbery 10 24 25 23 13 31
Pedestrian Robbery 217 62 202 243 328 149
Residence Robbery 20 9 18 13 8 12
Carjacking 47 7 37 40 19 25
Vehicle Theft 661 564 1015 1092 870 666
Rape 32 14 45 33 42 19
Person Shot 100 7 109 104 60 66
Suicide 206 131 209 230 404 180
Prostitution 343 22 616 55 416 84
Peeping Tom 6 5 9 5 8 13
Person Screaming 75 70 58 64 82 71
Public Indecency 95 155 95 123 382 112
Abandoned Children 33 27 58 59 41 25
Snatch Thief 78 48 62 80 149 44
Illegal Parking 588 716 436 275 2193 1158
Residential Burglary 953 416 1103 1139 215 488

COMMUNITY MEETINGS FOR REDESIGN INPUT: 

Click on zone to see a map of its proposed redesign. (The meeting for Zone 3 was last week.)

  • Wednesday, March 9 –  Zone 2  The Lodge at Peachtree Presbyterian Church 3417 Roswell Road 7:00 PM
  • Wednesday, March 23 –  Zone 1  C.A. Scott Recreation Center at Mozley Park 1565 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. SW 6:45 PM
  • Monday, March 28Zone 4  Adamsville Recreation Center 3201 M. L. King Jr. Drive, S.W. 7:00 PM
  • Wednesday, March 30  – Zone 5  Atlanta Civic Center Piedmont Room 395 Piedmont Ave. 7:00 PM
  • Thursday, March 31 –  Zone 6  East Atlanta Public Library 400 Flat Shoals Ave. SE  7:00 PM

6 thoughts on “MAKING THE MOST OF ATLANTA POLICE

  1. Take a look at the staggering number of alarm calls. Each alarm requires the quick attention of a beat officer. Most are probably false alarms and most of those false alarms are repeat offenders. For years, the city has had legislation in place and APD has had technology available to enforce rules about multiple false alarms. But officers are still responding day after day to the same locations.

    1. Bill, I’d really like to know more about that legislation on false alarms. Can you tell me more about it? I will request a copy from the City Council offices. Why do you think nothing is ever done about it? Are the alarms going off because of some kind of carelessness on the part of the property owner or are these legitimately unavoidable alarms?

      1. Alarms are covered in Section 70-26 of the city code. I don’t have much insight on why there are so many false alarms, except individual error. The idea behind fines is the incentive to set up your alarm properly.
        The city just lacks the technical and managerial leadership to get this done. Maybe they are waiting to privatize the enforcement through ALARMatlanta.

    2. Aha! I found it, they still have it. A revision of it was passed in late 2009 hiking the fees considerably. The law says that the first false alarm merits a warning citation, the second false alarm in the same calendar year gets a $100 fine, the third gets a $200 fine and the fourth gets a $300 fine. The fifth and six will bring a fine of $750, and any after that (in the same calendar year) will cost a property owner $1,000 each. I wonder how the city’s doing on collecting those.
      Here’s a link to the legislation changing the fees:
      http://citycouncil.atlantaga.gov/2009/images/adopted/1019/09O1807.pdf

  2. A point of clarification needs to be addressed. When they talk about calls for service, does that include self-initiated calls for service? That is an important distinction. I think the calls for service should be the citizen calls only, that gives you the best indication of personnel needs for an area. If you have a slow zone, and the officers make a lot of stops, roadblocks, details, it will add to the overall calls for service, and will muddle the actual needs of the zone. Just a thought.

    1. The redesign is based only on calls for service from citizens. I will check and see if my numbers, above, include officer-initiated calls.

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