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.