Once again, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Police Foundation have trundled out the old saw about Atlanta’s crime problem being a matter of perception (“Survey looks at how Atlantans feel about crime,” April 2, 2011).

They do not seem to understand that when one quibbles that a very real crime problem is overshadowed by perception, they are actually creating the old problem of “the lady doth protest too much”:  Their protestations seem to hint that all is not as it appears.

Why this fixation on perception? Why the need to undermine and discredit the citizens? Once again, the AJC has set itself opposite residents far more aware of their own circumstances than any news reporter possibly could be.

When a woman in Grant Park says she doesn’t feel comfortable opening her garage door until her car doors are locked and her engine is started, I trust her judgment. As a journalist and an advocate, I would never imagine that it is my job to question the common sense of residents who are far more familiar with their neighborhoods than I am.

 I do believe the Atlanta Police Department does a heck of a job with inadequate equipment and personnel—and congratulations is certainly in order for the lowered incidence of crime, but we must always remember that most crime goes unreported. Not just in Atlanta, but everywhere. I personally have known people who were robbed who did not report it. Why? They were traumatized and scared, afraid that somehow the perpetrators would find out they’d reported them and come back for more. Or, they felt intimidated by the whole process of reporting a crime. APD officers themselves can attest to instances when they’ve practically had to beg a victim to step up and give them details for a report.

So, it’s important to understand that when residents say they don’t feel safe, they aren’t just basing this on crime numbers—which fall prey to a number of factors outside the power of citizens. They are also basing their feelings on things that they know have happened in the neighborhood that the police may not know about. They also have a sense of things about to happen in a way that the APD can’t: They know when they see someone in the neighborhood who doesn’t belong there, or people “fund raising” whose paperwork looks a little dicey who are probably casing houses for burglaries, for example. They may not report these things to police, but they are aware of them and these very real factors and circumstances contribute to their common sense conclusion that all is not well.

That is not merely perception. That is fact.

It is not the police department’s job to market the city.

The APD is not in the business of advertising or image managing.

It is police officers’ job to fight crime and to tell the truth about it. Truthfulness matters so much in the APD that an officer can be fired simply for not being truthful. No wonder the APD—under Chief George Turner, which was not the case under his predecessor, Chief Richard Pennington—is not so eager to get on the “perception” bandwagon in order to discredit citizens. Turner tells the AJC that “Until our citizens feel safe, our work is not done.”


Turner is featured in the AJC article talking about community policing, getting out there and staying in touch with residents. That’s important, and saying that citizens are unable to accept reality does not help him or his officers in achieving that goal.

Because no matter how much we may want to compare this year’s numbers to that year’s or this city’s numbers to our city’s numbers, the fact is that we all live only in our neighborhood, only in this year, and these numerical comparisons carry little weight against the things we see on our own streets.

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  1. In other words, only pay attention to crime stats when they show crime getting worse.

  2. Bob Schreiber says:

    With the newly reduced population that the US Census is reporting for Atlanta, what are the city’s newly adjusted crime stats expressed as events/population unit?

  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ live apt fire

    Give me a break! To quote Gen, William Tecumseh Sherman, Benjamin Disraeli, Samuel Clemens and others, “There are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are statistics.” Crime statistics for a large city like Atlanta are meaningless if you happen to live at Ground Zero.

    If you really believe what you write, move to Grant Park and remind yourself that you are statistically safe.

  4. Tvshooter says:

    Or East Atlanta Village….specifically Leah Lane. Or Piper Circle. Or Stokeswood. Perception is reality and the reality is crime…burgleries, robberies and car break ins…are on the rise in the EAV and GP areas. Also keep in mind EAV is policed by multiple agencies..APD and DeKalb PD. Lately many crimes are happening in the uni Dekalb area….yes not APD’s area but crime is crime, and the crooks seem to not be concerned with boundry lines.

    Two words-Cooked books. Would the COA ever do something like under report or re-classify crimes? It’s happened before….pre Olympics and under the stellar leadership of “Chief” Beverly Harvard.

    “Atlanta’s audit said the city underreported crimes for years to help land the 1996 Olympics and pump up tourism. In 2002 alone, there were more than 22,000 missing police reports, 4,281 of which could have been counted as violent offenses. ”

    I know most reporters take the press release, 2 sots and a stand up and there you have a 1:10 pkg. But ask this question: Where do the 600 people surveyed live, double check that 600 is representitive sample of a city of over 400,000 people, and exactly what questions were asked. Also-what was the definition of “major crimes” in the survey? Remember, under Bill Campbell/Beverly Harvard, many rapes were reclassified as non aggravated assaults.

    Also this tidbit from Chief Turner..”“If you go strictly by numbers, crime is down across the board. Last year we had a 10 percent decrease in the most serious crimes,” Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said.”

    Uh…hey Chief Turner…so what about the other crimes? I notice one gaping hole in your comment…you don’t mention if non “serious crimes” was down…so I have to wonder…since it’s not mentioned in the Atlanta Journal Cheerleader…does that mean non serious crime is up? Odd AJC didn’t see fit to put a link to the report so Atlanta residents could peruse it over coffee on their deck. Oh wait houses in EAV have been robbed in daylight, at gunpoint on their deck. Hmmm….was that a serious or non serious crime? What definition does getting a gun in your face, and your wallet stolen fall? After all-no one gets hurt, is it a “serious” crime or a “non violent” crime?

    But statistically we’re safe….as long as you live on Kasim Reed or George Turner’s street.

  5. J says:

    IMHO without any facts to back it up. Crime overall is down in Atlanta due to the fact that the housing projects have been torn down. This is nothing new and has been said before. The fact is that now the poor huddled masses aren’t lumped in all together in a central despair ridden location. The rapes, murders, robberies, and burglaries that these neighbors inflicted upon each other in their housing projects are gone. They are now riding MARTA and coming to your neighborhood for the greener pastures that tax paying, property owning victims can provide. These tax payers however have loud voices and won’t let the mayor or chief forget when they have been wronged. Meanwhile the few housing projects that are left in the city continue on in their regular fashion. The residents there continue to shoulder the bulk of the crime in Atlanta, but suffer in silence. It’s a lot scarier when you know the person robbing you, and they live a few doors down.

  6. rob says:

    Now there is no need to invest in public safety. There is no need to worry about things like pensions. There is no need to worry about things like attrition rates through the roof. There is no need for citizens or tourists to look over their shoulders as they walk down the safe streets of this City! No need to worry about leaving anything in your car that someone will see and break into it, even if it’s only a dime. Leave your doors unlocked, windows and curtains open. Go out to the park and walk around secure in the knowledge that crime is down and you will not be bothered! All is well in this world! Thank you Mayor Reed, now you should move on to bigger and more important things than this little old City where so many people actually live their lives! Just showing the numbers dows NOT mean it is better. The quality of life actually improving and making this City a better place will leave a lasting legacy, but who will lead the way and make decisions based on this?
    AJCheerleader! Now that was a good one!

  7. Tvshooter says:

    I’m sure the alleged “victims” were only perceiving they were being robbed. The pistol whipping was probably an “accidental injury”, and the robbery listed as “forced contribution for economic justice”.

    Interesting that this happened on March 26th, and AJC reported it on a Sunday afternoon 8 days later. Buried down the list of “latest headlines”

    The AJC trumpets the crime is a perception in big bold headlines, buries the week old crime story 12th, below the Hawks lose (never saw that coming, eh?), Braves routing the Nationals (it’s early in the season, let’s not get excited yet), and a story about a crash taz…from Lansing, Michigan. Because no one is going to care about crime in Atlanta…sorry…”perceived crime”…when there is a tax on crashing your car in Michigan. I knew AJC moved out of Atlanta, wasn’t aware Lansing was in their demographic now.

    Was this a “serious” or “non serious” crime?

  8. billp1w says:

    You forgot to mention one reason victims do not want to report crimes. They know their stories would not stand up to police scrutiny. Often they are involved in some less than innocent activity.