Dirty bombs. Heavily armed snipers. A terrorist behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler.
Atlanta police, in accordance with state and federal law enforcement agencies, say they are prepared for just about anything as an estimated 1 million revelers begin pouring into the city for Super Bowl 53.
“I do believe we are as prepared as we can possibly be,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said.
But what about the day-to-day crimes that are a fact of life in any big city? Will the focus on worst-case scenarios provide opportunities for seasoned criminals operating outside the heavily secured downtown bubble where festivities connected to the big game are concentrated?
It will be Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Jeff Glazer’s responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. Glazier said all of the city’s zones will be fully staffed and focused on routine crime prevention.
“All officers will be working 12-hour shifts,” Glazier said. “We will have our crime suppression teams stationed throughout the city.”
And there, challenges remain that could impact residents and visitors alike. Particularly those with cars.
Continuing a trend that started in 2018, auto thefts, and larcenies of property kept inside vehicles, are on the rise. Two victims in particular have shined the spotlight on so-called “slider crimes.” One was an off-duty Atlanta police officer who shot and killed the suspect as the man drove off in the officer’s unmarked car. The other was Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
Police can’t repeat the warnings enough. The 30 seconds it takes to walk 20 feet and pay a cashier for gas or cigarettes is all the time a thief needs to steal cash or an electronic device. Firearms are a particularly popular target — about 1,000 are stolen in Atlanta each year, most lifted from vehicles, said Atlanta Police Department spokesman Carlos Campos.
And cops are not immune. APD officers reported nine stolen guns last year. In November, Chief Erika Shields, saying the department must practice what it preaches to the public, enacted fines of up to $500 and a minimum three-day suspension for officers who fail to properly secure their weapons in an unattended vehicle.
Fighting “slider crimes” has proved difficult for a number of reasons, Glazier said. The places the criminals target — gas stations, convenience stores — generally have spotty video surveillance, at best, he said.
And despite all the official warnings and press coverage, the public continues to be cavalier about securing valuables inside their vehicles.
“They make it very lucrative for these guys,” Glazier said, referring to the perpetrators.
This year alone, APD has received reports of 18 guns and $13,000 in cash stolen from cars, Glazier said Wednesday.
More visitors to Atlanta would seemingly present more opportunities for such crimes, but Atlanta police are confident that won’t be the case.
There is precedent for their confidence. Last year in Minneapolis, site of Super Bowl 52, crime was down 17 percent from the same period in 2017, according to stats provided by the city’s Police Department. That’s in line with other cities that have played host to Super Bowls, during which “Part 1” crimes (murder, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary) typically remain stagnant, experts say.
“People tend to behave with more supervision,” Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
The crimes that do increase — counterfeiting, prostitution, sex trafficking — tend to travel with any big event, experts say.
In Houston, site of Super Bowl 51 between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots, arrests declined sharply from 2004, when that city previously hosted the NFL championship.
There was one theft of note in Houston, however: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s jersey was stolen from the New England locker room. It was eventually recovered in Mexico.
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