Opinion: Splitting off from Atlanta’s not way to make Buckhead safer

From the CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Police investigate after man found shot and killed in his SW Atlanta home

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Police investigate after man found shot and killed in his SW Atlanta home

The 60-year high in homicides has cast a long shadow on the Atlanta mayoral election, underscoring public safety as the voters’ top concern.

The leading candidates’ prescriptions to reduce crime are strikingly similar:

  • Hire more police officers.
  • Put more officers on the streets and in the community.
  • Beef up training and police reform.
  • Deter crime by expanding the surveillance camera system.
  • Provide more programs to engage youth.
  • Encourage judges to hold felony repeat offenders accountable

The Atlanta Police Foundation agrees with these strategies. Success, however, will depend on execution and strategic deployment of financial and human resources.

Public safety concerns have prompted some Buckhead residents to propose secession from Atlanta and the establishment of an altogether new city, cleaved from what many would say is the most vibrant metropolis in America.

They contend that Buckhead, as a separate municipality, could more effectively control crime and provide the multitude of city services citizens expect.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Let’s examine the law enforcement challenges that come with creating a wholly new governing entity. Incorporation and “independence” would effectively be 3 to 4 years from now – after legislative authorization and subsequent voter approval, followed by negotiations with the city of Atlanta and other jurisdictions to provide a continuity of municipal services until a new city administration was staffed, funded and ready to operate.

Incorporation as its own governing entity requires an infrastructure that puts public safety first:

  • Standing up a new police department of 175 to 200 officers.
  • Standing up a fire/rescue department of 80 to 100 officers.
  • Enabling a new, 24/7 911 call center.
  • Activating a dedicated radio network to enable first responder communications.
  • Acquiring an adequate first responder training facility.
  • Installing – or compensating the city of Atlanta – for a new integrated camera surveillance system in Buckhead’s commercial and residential areas.
  • Standing up a Buckhead-centric coordinated response system between private-sector security operations and the newly constituted Buckhead police department.

Currently, these services – including the specialized units maintained by a large metropolitan police department, such as a bomb squad, mounted patrol, license and permits, K-9, narcotics, guns and gangs, and motorcycle squad required to police special events -- are provided by the city of Atlanta.

How likely are the spurned taxpayers and elected leaders of Atlanta to provide these critical services to the jurisdiction that sought separation?

The famous public-private partnerships that undergird our city are supported by the taxpayers, corporate largesse and strategic partnerships with entities like the Atlanta Police Foundation and other private-sector donors.

Just 24 months ago we had achieved a level of public safety unseen in more than 40 years.

The increasing frequency and proximity of serious crime to Buckhead has understandably sparked a demand for protection and mitigation. That some Buckhead residents feel their community is “under siege” is understandable, but that attitude is not unique among citizens across Atlanta’s neighborhoods.

The underlying issues attendant to reducing crime can’t be addressed independently from the problems that beset all of Atlanta. Let’s remember that:

  • Felons arrested in Buckhead will continue to be tried in the Fulton County courts, subject to the same jurisprudence that allows felony repeat offenders to escape appropriate incarceration.
  • Millions of dollars have already been invested in building Buckhead’s public safety infrastructure, which already includes some of the best crime-fighting tools on the market. Dismantling and rebuilding it will not only temporarily weaken Buckhead’s ability to combat crime, but it will also cost many more millions to achieve the same thing that exists today.
  • Criminals are not mindful of municipal boundaries. They seek target-rich environments – a dubious distinction for Buckhead or any well-to-do community -- but a reality, nonetheless.
  • Establishing an effective public safety infrastructure with capabilities, breadth and depth is a 4- to 5-year exercise, fraught with complexity and expense.

Public safety in a new city of Buckhead will assuredly be compromised in the short-term, with no guarantees of long-term improvement.

Buckhead needs additional police officers, as do other communities across Atlanta. Citizens have the power to hold our elected officials accountable. Let’s let those running for mayor know that the current rise in violent crime will not be tolerated.

Atlanta’s success is founded on our willingness to talk together, work together and come together to address common problems. Doing otherwise is a surrender, not a solution.

Dave Wilkinson is Atlanta Police Foundation president and CEO.


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