Crime sweep nets 159

By the time the sun was up Saturday, Atlanta police and officers from five other agencies had arrested 159 people in a series of sweeps a little more than 24 hours after the mayor and chief promised to address seemingly out-of-control crime.

APD officials insisted the region-wide sweeps were planned months ago and were unrelated to a new, aggressive crime-fighting initiative announced Thursday.

Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington promised to step up patrols in high-crime areas. Mayor Shirley Franklin said the city also would aggressively enforce curfews for juveniles; the police have not officially begun the effort, according to APD.

FBI data shows violent crime has dropped since Pennington became chief in July 2002. Yet a rash of highly-publicized crimes in recent weeks has left residents with the perception that Atlanta is becoming more dangerous.

Late last Saturday, former boxing champion Vernon Forrest was fatally shot in a southwest Atlanta convenience store parking lot after three men tried to steal his car.

Early Sunday, city Councilman Ceasar Mitchell was carjacked near his mother’s house.

Mitchell’s mother also was robbed in July. And in May, intruders kicked in a glass door at City Council President Lisa Borders Centennial Place townhome while she was sleeping upstairs.

Those crimes are unsolved.

“We believe that a lot of the crimes that we are seeing is linked to gang activity,” Pennington said.

Six agencies were involved in Friday’s and Saturday’s sweeps: APD, the Georgia State Patrol and Sandy Springs, Georgia Tech, Henry County and Fulton County police departments.

According to APD spokesman officer James Polite 123 of the 159 people arrested were found within Atlanta’s city limits, satisfying 11 outstanding warrants and resolving 52 cases.

Arrests were made in 55 Atlanta felony and misdemeanor drug cases and in 12 other felony cases.

Police said the sweeps Friday night and early Saturday morning were much like one in May, which resulted in the arrests of 200 people.

By the end of the year, APD plans to add 139 officers to its current force of 1,670 officers, which includes recruits now training. The salaries and benefits for 50 of those new officers will be funded for three years with federal stimulus grants announced several days ago. City taxpayers will cover all other costs.

The new officers should be patrolling by March.

Pennington also said police activity in zones 1, 3 and 4, which comprise south and west Atlanta, will be stepped up. The number of officers assigned to the gangs and gun unit also will be increased from six to 30.

Efforts to build the size of the police department come just a few weeks after the city ended furloughs of four hours a week per officer that had been in effect since December.

The department struggles with chronically high turnover. An audit released last year reported that more than one-third of the officers who left the force between 2004 and 2007 had worked in the department for less than a year.