Reducing violent crime in Atlanta is the top priority for the city’s police department, Chief Erika Shields said Friday at her first press conference. And repeat offenders, including juveniles, are a big part of the problem.
Though overall crime is down, homicides have increased, and 2016 was the deadliest year in a decade. Those killings — 111 last year — have left residents uncomfortable, and Shields said she understands the concern. But solving the problem is going to take everyone from property owners in violence-ridden areas to federal prosecutors working together.
She said juvenile offenders are a particular challenge.
In 2016, 1,100 juveniles were arrested. Five teenagers alone were arrested 101 times for their alleged roles in more than 120 crimes, Shields said.
“The current juvenile justice system is simply not working,” Shields said.
Her first six weeks on the job have been busy, but there’s even more to be done, she said. Shields was named Atlanta’s 24th chief of police in December replacing George Turner, who retired. Shields joined APD in 1995 and has served as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and major prior to her appointment to deputy chief. She assumed the role of chief Dec. 28.
Among the plans under her leadership: a new outreach program and youth center will target 100 of the top young offenders and their families, including younger siblings, to change the paths of potential criminals.
“The APD has no desire to lock up young black men. None,” Shields said. “These kids matter to us. We deal with them daily.”
In order to meet the community policing needs, APD must be able to recruit and retain new officers, the chief said. Currently, there are between 140 and 150 vacancies, and the department hopes to have 250 hired by the end of the year. There are roughly 75 recruits currently in training.
“Policing is a learned profession,” Shields said. “You cannot train experience.”
Hiring officers is no easy task, considering the ongoing racial tensions and riots reported across the country. Plus, though APD salaries are competitive, Shields said she will present a four-year plan for pay increases to mayoral candidates.
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