Atlanta homicides drop 21% after focus on combating guns and gangs

Mayor Andre Dickens declared 2023 ‘Year of the Youth’
December 15, 2023 Atlanta: One person is dead and another is injured after an argument led to gunfire early Friday morning, Dec. 15, 2023, on Georgia State University’s campus in downtown Atlanta. (John Spink /

Credit: John Spink/AJC

Credit: John Spink/AJC

December 15, 2023 Atlanta: One person is dead and another is injured after an argument led to gunfire early Friday morning, Dec. 15, 2023, on Georgia State University’s campus in downtown Atlanta. (John Spink /

After increasing for three years in a row, Atlanta’s homicide rate dropped by 21% in 2023, a welcome reversal echoed in other major metros. City leaders say joint efforts will be key in continuing the trend.

“I don’t put an ‘S’ on my chest as the mayor and say I’m going to solve all of this by myself,” Mayor Andre Dickens said at a recent news conference. “It takes the faith community, the business community, the non-profits, individuals, parents, etc. to pull this off. Strong partnerships.”

Authorities investigated 135 homicides in 2023, down from 171 in 2022, according to recently released crime statistics.

It wasn’t just Atlanta. The nation also had the largest single-year decrease in recent history. It’s not exactly clear why.

“We’re still trying to explain the crime drop that started in the 90s with great confidence,” said Adam Gelb, president and CEO with the Council on Criminal Justice. “Crime is mostly a local problem with local neighborhood-level causes and solutions.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco addressed the drop in violence across the country.

“As we start this new year, the declining murder and violent crime rates are undoubtedly good news,” Monaco said during a speech on Jan. 5. “But while the trends are broad, they are not uniform — so we cannot and will not relent. To the contrary, we need to double down on what works.”

Unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd and pandemic-era anxiety have been widely cited as contributing to spikes in violence in recent years. The country then saw a nationwide drop in deadly violence from 2022 to 2023.

Atlanta’s decline was sizable and higher than the national average, which is predicted to be around 12.5%, according to crime analyst Jeff Asher. The cofounder of AH Datalytics, he surveyed about 200 cities of various sizes throughout the country in his research.

“I would hope that policy makers are encouraged by the decline but understand there is work to be done,” Asher said. “You have to separate from the trend, which is encouraging, and the bottom line, which is still too high.”

Atlanta’s 2023 homicide total was still higher than pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, authorities investigated 99 homicides in Atlanta. That number jumped to 157 in 2020, the most since 1996.

“Yes, homicide is trending down,” Gelb said. “But it’s down from a big spike and we’re not yet back down in most places to pre-pandemic levels.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens speaks to members of the media during a press conference next to Atlanta Police Department Chief Darin Schierbaum, right, to discuss reduced crime rate in Atlanta at Salem Bible Church, Thursday, Jan. 4 in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Mayor and police chief team up

Dickens has made public safety a priority since taking office, and often appears at events or crime scenes along with law enforcement leaders.

“This isn’t an end, this is a beginning,” said Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum. “We’re going to continue to fight crime. And we’re very fortunate that every day that we fight crime, we’re doing it in partnership with our mayor.”

In January 2023, Dickens announced his “Year of the Youth” plan to help curb violence. Still, the first shooting death of 2023 claimed a child. Deshon Dubose, a Drew Charter School seventh-grader, was killed while leaving the Cascade Family Skating rink.

“They took my baby,” said Charlet Dubose, Deshon’s mother.

Chiurazzi Bailey Jr., 16, was arrested in March and indicted in June on eight counts, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder, aggravated assault and cruelty to children, court records showed.

“He was only 13 for two months,” said Deshon’s grandfather, Charles Dubose. “People that knew us knew that we were inseparable. Every day I deal with the loss of Deshon. I get up in the morning thinking about him. I think about him during the day and go to bed thinking about him. I’m just heartbroken still. He was my buddy.”

More senseless deaths

In the weeks and months that followed Deshon’s death, other families felt the pain of losing a loved one.

Julian Kolb, 20, was shot in his car with his infant daughter in the backseat in February. The 10-month-old was not injured. In April, Camryn Price, 21, was killed after leaving a nightclub. Ossie Turner, 62, was shot during a robbery.

Investigators say most homicides stem from disputes that turn violent and that most victims knew their assailants. But one of the highest profile incidents in 2023 was the May 3 mass shooting in a waiting room at the Northside Hospital Midtown medical building on West Peachtree Street.

Atlanta police and a multi-jurisdiction police force swarmed Midtown Atlanta on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 after 5 people were shot.  (John Spink /

Credit: John Spink

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Credit: John Spink

Deion Patterson, 24, was captured hours after the shooting in Cobb County after a massive, multi-jurisdiction manhunt and charged with murder in the death of Amy St. Pierre, 38, and four counts of aggravated assault in the shootings of other injured victims. He remains in the Fulton County jail.

On May 30 Teisha Brewley, a social media influencer, was killed in what police called a targeted shooting. Four of the nine homicide victims in June were teenagers killed in separate incidents. Those shootings prompted a plea from police for people to resolve conflicts without violence.

“This is not just a police issue, it is a people issue,” the Atlanta Police Department said in a social media post at the time. “Guns in the hands of angry or irresponsible people put the community at risk. You cannot put the bullet back in the chamber once it is discharged. Many have learned this the hard way.”

The police department then launched Operation Heatwave, a 16-week effort to reduce homicides, shootings and armed robberies by sending more officers to areas where data shows weapon, drug and gang crimes occur most often. The mayor’s office, partnering with numerous groups in the city, helped 5,000 teenagers and young adults find jobs for the summer, Dickens said.

The deadly pace slowed noticeably last summer. Atlanta reached 100 homicides on Aug. 10 of 2022 and Sept. 23 of 2023. But last year’s grim milestone involved another youth.

Derron Johnson was the city’s 100th homicide victim of 2023. He was 17.

Homicides drop, work continues

In addition to the drop in homicides, other violent crimes also declined in 2022, according to city leaders. Both rape and aggravated assault cases were down, with the number of rape cases being cut in half.

Schierbaum said officers have targeted guns and gangs, removing 3,000 guns from city streets in 2023 while charging 140 documented gang members with 560 crimes. The Atlanta Police Department has a 79% clearance rate for homicide cases, ahead of the national average of around 61%, he said.

“I want the citizens to know that we’re going to stay in the fight and we’re not doing it alone,” Schierbaum said.

While the first homicide victim of 2023 in Atlanta was seventh-grader Deshon, the final victim was a seventh-grade teacher.

On Dec. 30, 27-year-old John Goodwin, who worked at Renaissance Middle School, was shot at a southwest Atlanta apartment complex, according to police. The following day, Denisha Rosser was arrested and charged with murder.

Deshon’s grandfather says he now wants to be an advocate, stopping the violence that has devastated his family.

“I hope and pray that another family doesn’t have to go through the same thing,” Dubose said. “My heart is broken due to the simple fact that these are kids are killing each other with gun violence. Not enough is being done and said about it.”