Between 2003 and 2019, the City of Atlanta saw a consistent and dramatic reduction in crime – the second-largest decline of any urban city, according to FBI data.
Credit goes to a succession of civic leadership that focused on increasing the number of sworn officers, expanded police training, and a burgeoning partnership between law enforcement and the private sector through the Atlanta Police Foundation. That public-private partnership provided financial resources to advocate for and provide seed money to enable APD to pilot best police practices and adopt new technology to increase police visibility.
This enlightened approach to public safety got a shot in the arm when Mayor Bottoms implemented a pay raise which propelled APD salaries from among the lowest among major cities to the highest-paid department in the state of Georgia. The effect on morale was immediate. And APD performance reached new levels of efficacy and crime rates were the lowest in 50 years.
While FBI statistics demonstrate that overall Atlanta crime has continued at historically low rates, the incidence of violent crime over the past seven months has skyrocketed.
Our murder rate has soared. Armed assaults and gun-related crimes have increased. Heartbreaking stories about victims have gripped our city and unleashed calls for immediate action.
A steely resolve to address the immediacy of these issues and put in place long-range solutions has emerged.
Led by the mayor and APD Chief Rodney Bryant, APF helped to create to create a long-term plan to jumpstart an aggressive crime-fighting and reform plan. “One Atlanta, One APD” was designed to guide APD in building a sustainable approach to community policing, that would meet the acute spike in violent crime but be respectful of our citizens’ civil rights and mindful of differing cultural integrity of Atlanta’s many neighborhoods.
One Atlanta, One APD’s immediate priority is police visibility – more cops, more patrols, and more surveillance cameras where residents and businesses want them. Police visibility deters crime and gives residents confidence in their safety.
But the sustaining foundation of success in fighting crime requires a motivated and enthusiastic police force. We need to continue our focus on enhancing morale of a police force which lost 200 experienced officers in 2020.
One Atlanta, One APD’s fix for this predicament is a laser focus on retention, recruiting, hiring and training.
Successfully addressing these issues will at the same time ensure measurable and effective progress against the spike in crime, motivate and enable our police officers to meet the challenges they’re sworn to address, and ensure that APD operates at peak efficiency and with enlightened awareness of the cultural concerns of the people they protect.
The mayor has directed APD and APF to empanel two committees. One will execute a strategy to quickly advance APD to a full complement of authorized officers through improvements in recruiting, hiring and retention of experienced officers. Currently, APD is approximately 350 people shy of its authorized force of 2,049 sworn officers.
The second committee will address the financing and phased construction of a new state-of-the-art public safety training center, what One Atlanta, One APD calls The Institute for Social Justice and Public Safety Training.
The Institute would accommodate APD and Atlanta Fire/Rescue and become a joint training center for the city’s law enforcement professionals.
The impact of a state-of-the-art training center with a core curriculum that affords law enforcement officers a grounding in social justice will make a sustained impact on morale, retention, recruitment and hiring. The strengthening of such training on APD’s core values will greatly advance the department’s crime-fighting capabilities.
Reducing crime is never simple. But improving the professionalism of our police force, enhancing its resources, and providing best-in-class training at a state-of-the-art facility will improve morale, get the department back to full complement, and demonstrate to citizens and police alike that an investment in public safety is an investment in Atlanta’s future.
Mayor Bottoms will reveal other details of the One Atlanta, One APD plan in the coming weeks.
Dave Wilkinson is Atlanta Police Foundation president and CEO.