MARTA, Clayton try to allay fears of increased crime

With MARTA buses set to roll in Clayton County on March 21, authorities from the county and transit agency are trying to assure residents that crime won’t be a byproduct of the new service.

On Thursday, MARTA and county officials outlined steps they’ve taken to address residents’ concerns about increased crime once the transit service begins. They promised high police visibility.

“In November 2014, Clayton County citizens overwhelmingly voted for bringing transit back in the form of MARTA. We’re excited about that. But at the same time, a lot of citizens have had concerns about crime. How are we going to decrease crime and prevent crime from happening as a result of bringing transit back to Clayton County?” Clayton Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said at a press conference Thursday. “I fully expect for citizens’ concerns to be addressed and for crime to be effectively mitigated.”

As he spoke, Turner was flanked by the heads of 12 law enforcement agencies, including MARTA, Clayton police, the school district, Georgia State Patrol and seven of the county’s municipalities.

MARTA Police Chief Wanda Dunham said her agency has dedicated 13 officers to Clayton’s three initial routes. MARTA also will have a temporary precinct in the Clayton County Police Department headquarters.

“Those 13 are backed by the full weight of the MARTA agency and the (local law enforcement) agencies,” Turner said.

More officers will be added as more routes are added in August and December. MARTA officers will ride buses either in uniform or plainclothes, Dunham said. In addition to increased officer presence, residents will have assess to online MARTA apps. The MARTA On The Go app will give residents up-to-the minute times on buses and a See-and-Say app will let residents covertly report crimes or other problems in real-time. MARTA officers have gone on ride-alongs with county law enforcement to look for areas that need improvements before service starts.

There will be 35 MARTA buses making 135 stops on the three routes throughout the day. Clayton and MARTA have a “natural patch” between their emergency communication systems, Dunham said, making it smoother for the two entities to route emergency calls to the proper place.

“You’ll see increased presence of law enforcement, but you’ll also see MARTA presence visible along the routes,” Dunham said.

Resident Joycelyn Benham voted against MARTA because of her concerns about crime. When the now-defunct C-Tran system was in operation, Benham said, she and her neighbors were “vandalized because of the increased foot traffic,” brought in by C-Tran.

“They say it will help (economically). (But) I’m still apprehensive,” She said. “I’d like to see more police presence and add MARTA precincts in and around neighborhoods. That would help tremendously.”