For Atlanta police, last week’s decision to release a gang-affiliated juvenile offender suspected in a spate of car thefts was just another in a series of gut punches from the Fulton County judiciary.
“It’s par for the course,” police Deputy Chief Jeff Glazier told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We just got a little fed up this time.”
That frustration was aired publicly on the Atlanta Police Department’s Facebook page, part of a new strategy to direct the blame for repeat offenders — juvenile and otherwise — where police say it belongs. The post has received nearly 400 comments, most of them sympathetic to the cops.
“Cases like these are frustrating to our officers and investigators,” the Facebook post, published Friday, read. “They work hard on the street to arrest criminals who prey on the law-abiding, but routinely encounter inexplicable leniency afforded to repeat offenders such as this juvenile.”
It wasn’t the first time Atlanta police went on the offensive in an effort to sway public opinion. Chief Erika Shields, appearing in February at a community forum convened over rising crime rates in Buckhead, appealed to the well-heeled crowd to “focus your energy on the district attorney and the judges.”
“You represent power, you represent influence, and you represent the ability to help us change the trajectory of the criminal justice system of Atlanta,” Shields said.
Not surprisingly, APD’s finger-pointing hasn’t gone over well with its intended targets.
“We sincerely appreciate the work of the Atlanta Police Department and we understand the officers’ frustration with the Juvenile Justice System, but singling out an unidentified teenager online using APD’s official Facebook serves no purpose,” read a statement from Fulton Juvenile Courts.
The court declined to comment on what led Fulton Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Bradley Boyd to release the 16-year-old discussed in APD’s Facebook post to the custody of his 24-year-old sister.
The teen was arrested in May on eight charges related to gang involvement, theft and auto larcenies. Following his hearing last Wednesday, he was taken into custody again for an additional car break-in before Judge Boyd let him go. He was fitted for an ankle monitor, but Glazier said those devices offer little to no supervision.
“There’s zero accountability,” said the deputy chief.
In fact, the teen offender was boasting on social media late last week about his light punishment.
Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard said his office recommended that the 16-year-old remain in custody. But Howard, who has an often adversarial relationship with the county’s judges, struck a more conciliatory tone when discussing the case.
“There is an outcry from the public on both sides of this issue,” Howard said in a statement. “Some wish for repeat juvenile offenders to remain in custody while others believe they should be released from incarceration which places the judges under tremendous pressure to make a decision. The reason they face this undue pressure is because there is no viable alternative.”
Howard said he will propose a solution at Wednesday’s meeting of the Fulton County Commission. “Project Level Up,” as it is dubbed, would provide “substantial intervention for juveniles who have been arrested three or more times,” according to the DA. Funding has yet to be secured, however, and details are limited.
“It is our hope that the county commissioners will see the need for this viable alternative to the current methods being utilized in our juvenile court system,” Howard said.
Meanwhile, Glazier said investigators are working to get this particular juvenile’s probation revoked so he can be arrested and taken into custody. He has been on their radar for more than a year.
“Here you’ve got a 16-year-old kid, a documented gang member about to turn an adult. And the judge puts him back into that same chaotic environment where he was before,” Glazier said. “That’s setting him up for failure.”
It’s a given that the youth will commit more crimes. He has said as much on social media, the deputy chief said.
“How are they going to justify this one?” he said.