Norwood-backed Buckhead safety task force approved by Council

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta City Council on Tuesday approved the creation of a task force focused on crime in Buckhead, sparking debate over whether other areas of the city should be given the same consideration.

The Buckhead Public Safety Task Force, proposed by Councilwoman Mary Norwood, will be an 21-member group charged with developing a comprehensive plan to deter crime on the Northside.

The task force is set to include law enforcement representatives from the state, city and county, Neighborhood Planning Unit leaders and various business organizations. It would build on the work of the Buckhead Security Plan, an effort that was launched in 2020 and spearheaded by police and business leaders, Norwood said.

Buckhead has a lower violent crime rate than much of the rest of the city. According to Atlanta police officials, Zone 2, which covers Buckhead, saw the steepest drop in crime of any of the department’s six zones last year. Atlanta police Maj. Andrew Senzer, the Zone 2 commander, said violent crime fell by 7.8% in the area last year, compared to 2020.

But crime has been cited as a motivating factor behind the controversial effort to create a new city out of Buckhead. Republican-backed bills introduced under the Gold Dome would allow Buckhead residents to vote on cityhood in November.

In making the public safety recommendations, the group would work to get buy-in from businesses, neighborhood associations, residents in apartments and condos and other stakeholders like churches and nonprofits, Norwood said.

Norwood, who has served three terms as a citywide councilwoman and ran unsuccessfully for mayor twice, was elected without opposition in November to represent the western half of Buckhead for the next four years. Once the task force is up and running, she said, she hopes to see action within 90 days.

The group was given the green light by a vote of 14-1, with freshman Councilman Antonio Lewis the sole opposing vote. He questioned whether Buckhead “should be an area to focus additional public safety efforts,” saying other parts of the city would feel left out.

“This is something we should do citywide,” he said.

The Southern Center for Human Rights sent a letter to councilmembers before the meeting urging them to vote against the creation of the task force. The letter argued Buckhead has already received a disproportionate share of public safety resources in the last year.

“The data make clear that this is not the time to devote additional resources to one part of the city that already has some of the lowest incidents of crimes considered most serious. Likewise, the data show that Atlanta is not experiencing a ‘crime wave’ that is out of control,” the Southern Center wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Later on in the meeting, citywide Councilwoman Keisha Waites introduced legislation to expand the city’s Public Safety Commission, which was created last year and tasked with making recommendations to reduce crime.

She sought to pass the measure on immediate consideration, meaning it would bypass the council’s normal two-week committee process. That effort failed on a narrow 8-7 vote, and Waites’ item was referred to the public safety committee.