Last week, after a particularly deadly weekend, Dickens spoke out during an Atlanta City Council public safety committee meeting. Standing alongside his top advisors and the police chief, he promised, “If you pull a gun in this town, you are going to jail. If you’re a gang leader, you will be caught, and you will be held accountable.”
Such a vow is fitting after what Dickens rightly condemned as “essentially a mass shooting.”
After an argument at a park in southwest Atlanta, six people were shot in an apparent exchange of gunfire. Two adults later died, and a 6-year-old girl was hospitalized in critical condition.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only outbreak of fatal violence that weekend in Atlanta. There were two other deadly shootings, as well.
Talk alone won’t make a significant dent in violent behavior.
If it could, the troubling numbers would have already declined.
But it can – and does – set a tone.
When an influencer like Atlanta’s mayor consistently speaks out about the current crime spree, it just might reach the ears of at least some of those with a propensity to act out in violent anger.
At minimum, clear messages of the certain consequences of criminal actions can’t hurt.
In spite of the good intentions, it’s not enough.
It’s time for the mayor and the city to make good on their tough promises – and their ambitious plans. During an April meeting with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Editorial Board, Dickens promised to pursue a multi-pronged approach to make Atlanta safer.
His anti-crime work, he said, would include efforts to improve hiring and retention of police officers. And he viewed community-based policing as another important factor in the battle against violence.
The mayor hopes that better connecting with at-risk youth and their communities can also help Atlanta police regain the trust of those they serve. “This is about being ahead of crime,” Dickens said.
Yet, violent crime in Atlanta remains at unacceptable numbers.
Put simply, too many people are still being killed in our streets.
The bloodshed is certainly not confined to Atlanta city limits, but it’s fair to say that it is concentrated there. Just last week, Atlanta recorded its 100th homicide of 2022.
The numbers of those killed, wounded and otherwise terrorized by violence underscore the vital work that remains.
Attacking this problem at its source will require the city’s ongoing support of the Atlanta Police Department. That must remain a focus for Dickens and all of city government.
A thoroughly trained, fully staffed, well-equipped police force is a necessary first line of defense for citizens and the city they inhabit. Given this city’s history of addressing tough problems, Atlanta can set the national standard in this regard.
A smoothly functioning police department must prioritize quickly investigating crimes and locking up those who commit violent offenses. Efficient courts are needed, too, to ensure that the worst of the worst offenders stay jailed before trials that should quickly follow arrests and criminal charges.
These steps are vital to breaking the disturbing pattern we’re seeing now: Too many repeat offenders are being set free to prey violently on innocent people.
Yet, slamming cell doors more often is not the only step needed to curb crime – despite how tempting it is to believe the answer is that simple.
More must be done to reform nonviolent offenders and guide them away from crime.
In recent years, some encouraging ideas were being pursued here before rising crime rates made lock-’em-all-up-and-toss-the-key a more palatable public stance.
Yet, we can all agree there is much work to be done to lower crime here.
Citizens, community groups and businesses should each stand alongside the Atlanta Police Department and others to help foster a safer Atlanta.
Coordinating all the elements will test the organizational skills of our new mayor.
In his April meeting with our Editorial Board, Dickens promised to “make sure that I’m accessible and also make sure that the city lives up to its promises.”
Crime-weary Atlantans sure hope – and demand – that the mayor is up to the task.
The Editorial Board.