Angry and terrified by crime — again — Midtown wants mayor to step up

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner last year. David Tulis/For the AJC

Credit: David Tulis

Credit: David Tulis

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner last year. David Tulis/For the AJC

The draw for the garden party in Midtown was wine, roasted asparagus and fear. Communal fear. And anger. Residents here are plenty angry after a spate of recent crimes and want answers and reassurance from Mayor Kasim Reed and his police force.

On Oct. 3, Aaron Coe, a new resident in this historic neighborhood, gazed out his window to see his wife, Carmen, kneeling in the driveway, a teenage punk holding a pistol to her head and their 7-year-old daughter sitting terrified in the car.

The robbing crew scattered when Coe emerged from the house; young miscreants being a determined lot, they went a few blocks up and carjacked someone else.

The audacity of the crime — a mom, a child, a gun to the head, all in plain view on a Saturday afternoon — rallied the community to action. Again, that is. This neighborhood seems to be rallying time and again, from outrage to outrage.

The feelings of raw panic had largely ebbed by the time the Coes attended the community meeting days later. Aaron Coe related the story to Reed, who attended the impromptu meeting. Coe noted it took half an hour for a cop to show up after dialing 911. A half-hour to show up to a call of a gun at a young mom’s head.

Coe, who renovated a home near Piedmont Park and moved there in May, is a preacher by trade, so he was polite when addressing the mayor. He even ended on an uplifting note: “I want to say that we’re on your side. We moved to this neighborhood because we believe in the city.”

Reed, framed between two potted ferns in the backyard, apologized to the Coes and announced a $25,000 reward to catch the young criminals. “We’re going to pursue them, track them and find them,” the Mayor vowed.

He then launched into an action plan that included overtime for cops, more video cameras and continuing to hire new officers. He also took off after judges and Fulton County government, as he has in recent years, accusing them of not keeping criminals in jail.

“There are 481 individuals in Atlanta who should not be walking around,” he said.

He may’ve gotten the number slightly wrong, but Reed was apparently referring to a study that tracked repeat offenders between April 2011 and December 2013 and found that 461 recalcitrant dirtbags accounted for 14,421 criminal charges. Worse, the study found, just 16 of those 461 were sent to prison. The issue is complex but boils down to an overcrowded county jail that was under a federal court order.

‘We have reduced violent crime’

Make those judges accountable, he urged, and then he launched into a litany of mayoral accomplishments — balancing the budget, reopening recreation centers and lowering crime since coming to office January 2010.

“We have reduced violent crime in our city by 20 percent,” he stated. “That’s a fact.”

Well, sort of.

Overall crime in Atlanta dropped 22 percent from 2009 to 2014, according to the department. But violent crime was down just 12 percent during that period, same as the national decline.

Atlanta, however, has been successful in cutting property crime, more than doubling the national decline — down 24 percent versus 11 percent.

But the crime drops Atlanta has witnessed have flat-lined this year, although Zone 5 (which includes Downtown and Midtown) is down 5 percent this year. That drop doesn’t seem to register with Midtown’s residents, especially since two crimes that frighten the hell out of folks — aggravated assault and rape — are up in Zone 5 this year, respectively 19 and 56 percent.

And people are hot.

As the mayor walked into the meeting, he passed a man storming out. The man swore a loud oath as the Zone 5 commander talked about the need to dial 911. The guy would not stop to explain his ire.

‘Glad someone’s paying attention, but …’

Kevin Hixson, a five-year Midtown resident, also stomped out after asking Reed a question. “Another BS answer,” he muttered as he squeezed through the crowd to leave.

Later, he complained of “canned responses.” Several months ago, his vintage Corvette was stolen from his apartment’s supposedly secure garage. He said a wave of crimes drew a similar meeting in June in which a sergeant from the zone came to answer concerns.

The answers then sounded like the answers on this night, Hixson said, adding, “The general feeling is we’re glad someone’s paying attention, but we didn’t get anywhere.”

Reed comes across as a man strong on action but short on empathy.

He acknowledged “morale issues” in the police department, referring to the pay dispute with cops and firefighters. The mayor has held out against increasing their pay until they drop a lawsuit fighting his pension reform. The formula change he pushed through saves the city millions in the long run.

Reed then performed an accounting for those in the garden. A 3.5 percent increase in pay costs roughly $8 million a year or $80 million over a decade, he said. Add that to the $50 million he figures the city would be forced to pay if the cops and firefighters win the suit, “and that would be a $135 million loss.”

True, a pay raise to cops and firefighters would be a “loss” on the city ledgers, although those in uniform who work second and third jobs might quibble with that.

‘There’s a bit of myth-making’

Reed responded to a question about attrition in the police ranks saying “there’s a bit of myth-making” going on. There are 1,950 cops, 1,850 active and 100 in the police academy pipeline, he said. Attrition used to be 10 percent, he said, but is now 7 or 8 percent.

Au contraire, countered Ken Allen, head of the police union. He said 171 cops had left the force as of Sept. 16 and another 15 or so since, putting the figure right at 10 percent of the active force even if the headcount is at 1,850, which union leaders dismiss as optimistic.

Mayor Reed and Police Chief George Turner will again be talking to residents this Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Grace United Methodist Church, 458 Ponce de Leon Ave NE.

Aaron Coe, whose wife was staring at a pistol, admits he’s still an Atlanta “newbie,” but he remains hopeful. “When a group of people put their minds together,” he said, “change can happen.”