Bill Torpy at Large: Home invasions put Buckhead neighborhood on edge

The Atlanta Police Department sent officers on horseback into the south Buckhead neighborhood of Wildwood in response to resident complaints about a crime wave. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Mitzel)

The Atlanta Police Department sent officers on horseback into the south Buckhead neighborhood of Wildwood in response to resident complaints about a crime wave. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Mitzel)

Andrew Allman was settling into sleep one night recently in south Buckhead when he was jarred awake by a crashing sound, followed by the blare of his security alarm. Someone had kicked in his back door.

Allman was terrified. His three kids were sleeping upstairs. He was in the downstairs bedroom. Should he confront the intruders?

He called 911 and stayed put. He figured the thieves would leave quickly because of the screeching alarm, while confronting them might leave his kids fatherless.

Bill Torpy

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The thieves left and 20 minutes dragged by but nobody came. Actually, police did arrive, but they were down the street. Turns out a robbing crew hit a neighbor’s home at the same time, so you can understand the cops’ confusion.

The crew attacking Allman’s home grabbed a set of keys near the door and fled in his family’s Mercedes SUV. It was found wrecked in College Park.

“We feel extremely violated. Our whole neighborhood feels extremely violated,” Allman told me. “People feel the need to get firearms, which can’t end well.”

Crime, we keep hearing, is down overall in the city. But then you’ll quickly hear someone saying, “Not over here!”

This leads police to play a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole with our homegrown criminal element. Stomp down a crime spree here, it pops up there. And so on. And so on.

Allman, like others in the neighborhood, had been concerned about the growing brazenness of the criminals who had been hitting their Wildwood neighborhood near Howell Mill Road and I-75. I heard that term a lot last week when talking with residents — brazen.

The criminals had started small in previous months, rifling through cars at night, sometimes stealing them. Then there were burglaries. And finally, the punks had graduated to becoming full-fledged dangerous hoodlums: They were committing burglaries when people were home, which is officially a home invasion.

Criminals usually prefer not to be confronted. They generally like to quickly get in and out of these situations. But these guys obviously don’t care if someone is around. Allman’s house, with three vehicles on the premises, was obviously occupied. But they burst in anyway, just like they did the neighbors’ home, which also had kids nestled in their beds.

Undeterred, the crew returned to the block a few nights later on Thanksgiving to hit the Layne residence. The family was out of town, so the criminals took their sweet time plotting their manner of entry — 24 minutes, in fact, according to the exterior security camera.

Thieves break into a south Buckhead home after having spent 24 minutes in the backyard deciding how they would enter. Finally, they employed an old standard — they kicked in the back door. (Photo courtesy of Michael Layne)

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The thieves were comfortable — remember, they're brazen. They moved chairs, they went to the shed and fetched a ladder, they climbed up on the roof, all looking for a point of entry. Finally, they went with the standby — they kicked in the back door and raced through the house as the alarm blared.

Break-ins and crime in that area are not new. In September, the City Council put out a press release about closed-circuit cameras getting installed in the area. In that press release, a resident named Allyson Delius was quoted saying the cameras were an important tool to fighting crime.

But last week, Delius had had enough and was standing before the council frustrated and a bit angry. She had come before the same elected body several months ago but nothing seemed to have changed. In fact, it was getting worse.

“These people are always surveying the neighborhood,” she told the council, before ending with a warning. “Something bad is going to happen.”

I caught up with Delius later and told her that Atlanta Police Department figures say crime is down 3 percent citywide, and is flat in Buckhead, according to numbers provided by the Buckhead Coalition.

“Crime is not down,” said Delius, who has been in the neighborhood 20 years. “It’s never been like this: Home invasions, armed robberies in the street, now we have criminals coming into our homes.”

Another woman was going to accompany Delius in speaking to the council but she had scared off a suspicious car from her driveway that morning and didn’t want to leave her fort unprotected.

“The police feel handicapped and frustrated; they say we can’t do anything,” Delius said. The higher-ups, the department white shirts, “are toeing the party line. They say, ‘Crime is down. We have enough people.’ The administration doesn’t want to recognize they have an issue.”

The administration recognizes the issue. It's been an issue since 2009, when mayoral candidate Kasim Reed said he was going to take a "muscular approach" to fighting crime. Reed has long stated a goal to get 2,000 cops on the force, although that number has proved to be elusive as veteran cops retire or leave for other departments, and the force is left to replace them with newbies.

Steve Zygaj, president of the APD’s chapter of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, figures there are about 1,750 cops, with 50 more recruits in school. However, he said, another exodus of retirements is coming at the end of the year.

Police are left playing Whack-a-Mole on two fronts. The one they play chasing criminals and a similar game with staffing, endlessly filling a bucket with holes in the bottom.

The other day, on the sports talk radio station 680 The Fan, I heard an ad for Atlanta police looking for recruits.

If you want to help whack some of those criminal moles, the city is eager to talk to you.