Opinion: Atlanta City Council members on rise in violent crime

Atlanta City Hall
Atlanta City Hall

SUNDAY ISSUE: PUBLIC SAFETY IN ATLANTA

Editor’s note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editorial Board asked members of the Atlanta City Council to offer their thoughts on how to address the spike in violent crime that’s occurring in the city. Following are the comments of council members who sent responses for publication:

Natalyn Archibong, District 5

Natalyn Archibong
Natalyn Archibong

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Some of Atlanta’s crime has been caused by bad actors from other states who perceived Atlanta as an open city. Other increases may be COVID-19 related: domestic violence, street racing, and gun-related crimes. No matter the cause, every Atlantan deserves to feel safe.

First, we must strengthen community policing. Every community should know the officers policing their neighborhoods, and officers should know the community leaders and the uniqueness of the communities they serve.

Second, we need more cameras connected to our Video Integration Center (VIC). More cameras connected to the VIC will increase crime prevention and help solve crime.

Third, the city must work more closely with the Atlanta Public Schools, and local social service providers to ensure our citizens receive help to be self-sufficient and resilient.

Finally, we need non-emergency responders, as well as emergency responders who are well-trained in de-escalation tactics, who have been screened to prevent those with racial, gender, sexual orientation and xenophobic biases from serving as law enforcement officers.

Our officers need to know the city values their service, and we need to know our officers respect all citizens and will uphold the law fairly without use of excessive force

Antonio Brown, District 3

Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

We cannot continue to be reactive and address crime in Atlanta only at the surface level. If we do, we will find ourselves repeating the struggles of the past.

Rather than just proposing a band-aid solution of putting hundreds of new officers on the street, we must be bold and do the necessary work to reimagine public safety to cure the underlying conditions of generational poverty that have long contributed to unsafe communities in Atlanta .

Andre Dickens, Post 3 At Large

Andre Dickens
Andre Dickens

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The increase in crime we’re seeing is a result of uncertainty and inaction coupled with a year of unprecedented turmoil stemming from the pandemic.

During the difficult but necessary lockdowns, people, especially teens, were disconnected from family, friends, and the institutions of school, church, and public amenities. Parents were stressed, struggling to cope with the situation, and pulled in multiple directions by a changing landscape of jobs, housing, and community support.

The result was a spike in unsupervised and disconnected young adults -- idle hands coupled with misdirected energy leads to negative outcomes whether you are a teen or an adult.

It is critical that we take the lessons of the pandemic and rebuild our institutions of family, friendship, faith, and government. We must reconnect our communities and reinvigorate our desires to create a better city with balanced growth and opportunities. We need to strategize and communicate better with communities around youth engagement programs, protect our neighborhoods from dangerous vehicular activities, and enforce existing laws regarding night life.

We have almost beaten a terrible disease, and we must use these lessons to continue to fight the diseases of injustice, poverty, racism, violence, and hatred.

Amir Farokhi, District 2

Amir Farokhi
Amir Farokhi

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Here’s what we can do reduce violent crime.

First, we cannot ignore that nearly all violent crime involves guns. As a nation, we have allowed the 2nd Amendment to be abused to the tragic detriment of us all. Stronger gun control has to be at the top of the agenda.

Second, while the causes of the violent crime are complex, many incidents are predictable. We see it primarily on weekend nights, usually near a finite universe of neighborhoods and nightclubs. We must focus resources to these areas. That includes a physical police presence, innovative use of technology, and enforcement of city ordinances.

Third, behavioral nudges improve safety: ample street lighting, urban design that puts people and eyes on the street, and alternative late-night activities -- from food trucks to sporting opportunities – all make a difference.

Fourth, great cities have a vibrant night economy. Yet, we never intentionally consider how to make it work for everyone, from the hotel worker to the bar patron. A “night economy czar” is in order to rethink how we operate at night and better coordinate resources.

Finally, crime is symptomatic of other failures, notably a lack of economic opportunity. Focusing on economic stability for our most-vulnerable residents and offering resources for entrepreneurship and career growth should be integrated into our public safety planning.

Howard Shook, District 7

Howard Shook
Howard Shook

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

It seems logical to assume that the pandemic and associated job losses, reduction of the police force, hamstrung court system, inattention to crime hotspots, and a reliance on guns to settle disputes are key contributors to our untenable crime rate.

Let’s:

  • Improve the strength and morale of APD by offering a retention bonus to cops willing to stick it out here.
  • Crack down on our crime hotspots, particularly the felony-spawning bars and nightclubs masquerading as restaurants.
  • Invest in successful programs for at-risk and repeat offenders with an emphasis on identifying people with the right combination of warm hearts and clear minds needed to make a difference.
  • Because a very few felons cause a disproportionate amount of crime, the administration should be a leading voice in calling for the courts to be as operational as possible.
  • In light of the crime wave and overcrowding of Fulton’s jail, let’s be willing to revisit the repurposing of our jail.
  • Conduct an unflinching review of the effects of Atlanta’s bail reform law.
  • Refrain from believing that we can reduce crime by decriminalizing criminal behavior.

Matt Westmoreland, Post 2 At Large

Matt Westmoreland
Matt Westmoreland

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Atlanta’s spike in violent crime is real and jarring. Too many residents feel unsafe. Too many officers feel unsupported. The ramifications from an unprecedented pandemic, uneven economic recovery, and closed schoolhouses are very real. Residents are rightfully demanding change.

Yes, we need a permanent police chief, improved training, increased accountability, and new public safety facilities. All of those are important.

But we also have to think and act with a longer-term and systemic focus: Deploying trained crisis teams to respond to nonviolent calls, allowing police to focus on violent crime; better addressing the trash, blight, and vacant lots that research shows negatively impact neighborhood safety; investing in proven programming to help our younger residents avoid, de-escalate and manage situations that can turn violent or deadly.

Finally, City Council and the Mayor must better partner with our public schools to ensure every child enters kindergarten ready to learn-- and graduates from high school headed to college or a career that pays a living wage.

Historically, moments of perceived or actual rising crime are often met with punitive policies that haven’t worked, aren’t sustainable and lead to more, if different, trauma. Now is our opportunity to embrace a better approach -- and deliver for all residents and communities.

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