‘A life of crime’: Fulton officials create Repeat Offender Tracking Unit

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Mayor: 1,000 people responsible for 40% of Atlanta’s crime

Fulton County’s law enforcement officials have been trying for years to identify repeat offenders and keep them from committing additional crimes — but this time they say they mean business.

At a joint press conference held Tuesday morning, Atlanta’s mayor, the police chief, the Fulton sheriff, the district attorney and the county’s chief judge announced they are joining forces to target the city’s most egregious offenders and keep tabs on them.

Repeat offenders are defined as those who have been convicted of three or more felonies. Law enforcement leaders say they account for a disproportionate share of metro Atlanta’s crime.

To address this “scourge of repeat offenders,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said local, county and federal law enforcement agencies are combining resources and information to identify such people and track their cases through the court system.

Each week, 30% of arrests made by the Atlanta Police Department are of men and women who have already been convicted of at least three felonies, Dickens told a room full of reporters, city council members and business leaders.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

“That’s pretty much a textbook definition of a life of crime,” the mayor said. “We catch them, we arrest them, we convict them. But somehow they’re back on our streets and often they’re back to criminal behavior.”

The Repeat Offender Tracking Unit will share information between police, prosecutors and judges who can choose to keep certain offenders behind bars longer as they await trial.

“Better decisions begin with better information,” said Fulton Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher. “It helps the officers on the street, it helps the prosecutors and of course it helps the judges make better decisions.”

The unit is starting off relatively small, with just a handful of employees, and is being financed by a combination of public and private sector funding.

It will be headquartered on Mitchell Street in downtown Atlanta and is initially set to include just two Atlanta police officers, two sheriff’s deputies, an employee from the Fulton DA’s Office and administrative staff members funded by the Atlanta Police Foundation. Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said the unit will likely expand in the future.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

“We are being very intentional about addressing our repeat offender issues.” Bryant said. “We have to really start being aggressive. ... This is a little different than where we’ve been before.”

The unit’s lease, furniture and technology is being paid for by Central Atlanta Progress, the Midtown Alliance and the Buckhead Coalition.

According to Dickens, just 1,000 people are committing an estimated 40% of Atlanta’s crime. The new unit, he said, sets out to change that.

“The tracking unit is designed to get these serial, repeat offenders off the city’s streets,” he said. “Any system that allows a cycle of career crime is a broken system.”

Dickens said there are resources and training programs available for those wishing to turn their lives around. But those who choose to lead a life of crime must be punished accordingly, he said.

Bryant said in the past four weeks alone, Atlanta officers have charged 75 people with more than 1,800 combined arrests: “That lets you know there’s a significant problem in the city of Atlanta.”

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Sheriff Patrick Labat told reporters he expects jail numbers will rise as law enforcement starts “going after those who mean us no good.” And District Attorney Fani Willis said those deemed career criminals would be given a “scarlet letter” so anyone handling their cases knows exactly who they’re dealing with.

“We are now specifically targeting repeat offenders from the time of arrest,” she said, adding the agencies are collaborating to “make our communities safer.”