Opinion: Thoughts on city’s new crime report

07/16/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — during an update on the Atlanta Anti-Violence Advisory  Council at Atlanta City Hall, Friday, July 16, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Caption
07/16/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — during an update on the Atlanta Anti-Violence Advisory Council at Atlanta City Hall, Friday, July 16, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

THE EDITORIAL BOARD’S OPINI0N

Something is better than nothing.

That’s the phrase that comes to mind when delving into the work of Atlanta’s Anti-Violence Advisory Council – a group formed back in May by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to review Atlanta’s plans to combat violent crime.

The group’s recommendations, released Friday, reinforce what we all know – that violent crime is up sharply in our city.

In its report, the advisory group wrote: “While not all violent crime is spiking in Atlanta, homicides and aggravated assaults have risen disturbingly when compared to 2019.”

Admitting that a problem exists is often a first step toward solving it, so the advisory council receives points for stating that homicides in Atlanta at one point this year were up 54% as compared to 2019. (Atlanta’s police chief said Friday that the rate has been falling.)

The group’s report also calls for creating a new city office to oversee initiatives aimed toward reducing violent crime. While we are usually skeptical of expanding any bureaucracy, the urgency and importance of the problem suggests that the idea deserves thorough consideration.

ExploreNews coverage: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to create office charged with reducing crime

That said, Atlanta still has a big crime problem right now – a problem that is taking lives and robbing the rest of us of peace of mind and a sense of reasonable security.

And perhaps it was too much to expect the group to come up with Atlanta-sized ideas that match this city’s history of moving boldly to solve problems of the past.

Still, we’d like to hope game-changer ideas are out there, somewhere.

Speaking of hope, we expect those outside of City Hall will heed the report’s call to do more.

The report, for instance, rightly notes the importance of “community capacity and infrastructure building.” It recommends “work with community stakeholders in locations and neighborhoods experiencing violence by investing in programs, infrastructure, and civic institutions to support violent crime reduction efforts.”

The panel envisions business owners, parents, faith leaders, the city’s youth and non-profit organizations all working together to solve this problem.

That’s the Atlanta way, and we have long called on these entities to take a more active role in addressing crime.

We agree with the advisory council that violence intervention programs should be expanded and strategically focused on neighborhoods with the most urgent needs.

In this time of many broken or struggling homes, it is vital that we change what the group calls “violent social norms.” The spike in homicides illustrates that families, religious and community groups and others need help.

The advisory council urges expanding Atlanta’s Cure Violence pilot effort – a program intended to reduce gun violence among people who know each other. City neighborhoods taking part in the program, Bottoms said during a press conference Friday, have seen a 50% drop in violent crime.

Because smart programs rooted in sound, evidence-based knowledge have shown results in reducing violence, expanding Cure Violence seems worth a try.

But rather than offer outside-the-box ideas, the advisory council’s recommendations seem to largely focus on efforts that already exist.

The group, for instance, urged the mayor to move forward with plans to rebuild the Atlanta Police Department’s too-thin ranks. The report notes that the city is focused on hiring 250 additional officers.

During Friday’s press conference, Bottoms noted that she had worked to squelch a defund-the-police measure that was before the City Council. “We didn’t pass that in Atlanta, and had it been passed, I would have vetoed it,” she said.

“Our officers are continuing to run into danger to protect us all,” she said. “I continue to be grateful for the sacrifices they make every day.”

We agree with you there, Mayor Bottoms.

As we have maintained in the past, a well-trained, fully staffed APD is critical in the fight against crime. So, too, is providing sufficient mental health services to do what police are not trained to do, especially during crises that can quickly devolve into violent encounters.

We’re pleased that the report acknowledges the role of adequate mental health efforts. It is now up to policymakers, city budget writers and the philanthropic community to make that happen.

The advisory council recommends spending $70 million on its nine “critical” anti-crime initiatives. City officials spoke of ways to allocate, or reallocate, city, state and federal money to cover most of that and will seek a remaining $20 million from philanthropic and private sources.

The advisory group’s new report, summed-up, points strongly toward the problem that Atlanta must work harder to fix.

But all of us should absorb the insights raised once more and work harder to fix this deadly crisis.

After all, our city is counting on us.

The Editorial Board.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not normally publish an Opinion page on Saturdays, we believed the announcement of the Advisory Council’s recommendations warranted an exception. This is in line with our new Atlanta Forward: Voices Against Violence initiative, which we began last week. You can catch up on the series by visiting the Opinion section on AJC.com. Last week, we shared two personal stories – one from a community leader who is crying out for leadership after a teenager was shot and killed behind her home; another from a professor of criminology at Georgia State and a surgeon from Grady Hospital.

READ MORE

Atlanta Forward: Voices Against Violence