City must invest in police force, equipment

A stream of seemingly random and senseless violent acts in Atlanta this year have stoked fears and increased perceptions of runaway crime, putting public safety at the top of this fall’s mayoral campaign agenda.

The Atlanta Police Foundation has worked since its founding in 2002 to improve public safety by raising private money to support programs designed to increase the retention, training and overall strength of the city’s police force. We believe that any discussion of improving public safety in Atlanta must begin and end with boosting the number of police officers — whether it’s those on routine patrols or assigned to specialized units.

Any suggestion that the department’s staffing problems result from a misallocation of personnel is simplistic and short-sighted. The department has many missions; all need sufficient personnel. Here are six priorities for the next mayor and City Council.

Increase police visibility. More police on the streets reduces crime. The police force needs to be increased to 2,000 officers by 2012 and 2,300 by 2014. (Current size is 1,675.) More officers enable the police to saturate criminal "hot spots"; improve public perception; focus specialty units on drugs, gangs and other organized crime; better enforce code violations; prepare for emergencies; and improve their own morale and safety.

The mayor and City Council should increase the uniformed officers of the APD to levels warranted by a city of our size.

Stem attrition. Retain current officers and improve morale by increasing starting pay, ensuring pay raises, replacing outdated vehicles and equipment, implementing an effective career ladder and creating incentives to encourage officers to live within the city limits. The mayor and council should also commit now to increasing the force of uniformed officers. Improved retention and morale will lead to a force that is prouder and more invested in its communities.

Increase effectiveness. Work with the Atlanta Police Foundation, local businesses and others to ensure Atlanta has the best research, training and strategies in law enforcement. The foundation's relationship with the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance can ensure that the best practices for police training, narcotics investigations, leadership and progressive community policing are made available to the APD.

Select the right chief. The mayor must attract a hands-on and proactive chief to focus on crime prevention and perception, emergency preparedness and officer morale. The next chief should also possess strong leadership skills with an eye for the "big picture."

Communicate broadly, and often. The mayor and public safety leaders must maintain a steady dialogue with the community, helping to ease concerns and lay out a plan of action. Our 24/7, wired world demands effective, comprehensive and transparent communications.

Invest in crime-fighting technology. Establish collaborative video surveillance and radio channel networks with neighboring police departments and area businesses. Real-time communications through a program known as Operation Shield can enable a "force multiplier," serving as extra eyes and ears to nab criminals.

We’re at a critical juncture. City leaders must move swiftly and decisively or risk higher crime rates. The Atlanta Police Foundation stands ready to help.

Dave Wilkinson is president and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation.