Our View: Fighting violent crime shouldn’t be political

An increase in citywide drive is driving a push to incorporate a city in Buckhead.
An increase in citywide drive is driving a push to incorporate a city in Buckhead.

SUNDAY ISSUE: THE PUSH FOR CITYHOOD IN BUCKHEAD

It is human nature to seek solutions for big problems, especially those closest to home.

If the problem is large enough, even a flawed solution starts looking better than it perhaps should.

That’s a good way to look at the effort to carve a new Buckhead City out of Atlanta’s municipal map.

Fears of violent crime and a belief that this prosperous and influential part of Atlanta has gotten short shrift in terms of city services and public safety are behind the latest move to create yet another new city in the metro area.

Even so, at this point, creating a freestanding city of Buckhead seems the wrong solution, despite the immediate challenges that demand attention – and action.

Yes, violent crime in Buckhead – and elsewhere in the city of Atlanta – is at an outrageous level, with the city’s murder rate reaching its highest level in decades. Violence and bloodshed have not spared even affluent neighborhoods, such as Buckhead.

That reality has residents and taxpayers both fearful and upset at what they see as inadequate action by the city to control crime.

Acting assertively to reduce violent crime should not be hindered by politics. Homicides are taking too high a toll in Atlanta neighborhoods of all demographic and political leanings. These concerns are significant, understandable and demand to be adequately addressed.

Responses from City Hall so far have not come close to doing that. In fact, they have only heightened tensions.

For Atlanta, much is at stake in terms of both reputation and revenue. If Buckhead City is incorporated, about 40% of the total assessed dollar value of Atlanta real estate could leave the city’s tax books, according to reporting last week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That would open a significant budgetary gap that remaining Atlanta taxpayers would have to scramble to fill.

All of which is why the city must lay out its plan to fight and reduce crime. It needs to explain what steps it is taking to make the streets of Atlanta – and Buckhead – safer for us all.

To date, we have not seen that from City Hall.

The Atlanta Police Department still lacks a permanent chief, for example. Which means it is easy – perhaps too easy – to assume that effective, empowered leadership isn’t in place to proactively fight the spike in violent crime.

As a first step, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms needs to quickly find and name a permanent chief. The department’s dedicated officers deserve no less than that.

Blaming tough nationwide competition for top police executives should no longer be acceptable to city leaders or citizens.

The administration also needs to move more quickly to fill APD’s job openings. The city needs a full complement of police officers on its streets in this dangerous moment.

The recently passed retention bonuses for APD officers could help maintain headcount, but a strong hiring push must continue.

The city also needs to be much more proactive in resolving the ongoing argument over where and how to house those arrested in the city of Atlanta.

The mayor’s plan to close and “repurpose” the mostly empty, 1,300-bed Atlanta City Detention Center might have made more sense if crime were at a cyclical low.

But given the substantial rise in violence we’re currently seeing, proposals to use the city’s empty cells to house overflow prisoners from the crowded Fulton County jail deserve full consideration now.

We strongly urge Atlanta city leaders to take seriously the earnest cry for help that the Buckhead movement represents.

The very idea poses a substantial risk for the financial viability and population diversity of the city that is the nucleus of this great region.

If Buckhead pulls out of the city, it will also be a significant loss for the so-called Atlanta Way. Our collaborative approach has served us well, engaging people across racial and demographic lines to get things done for the mutual benefit of all residents.

Ditching all of that and creating a less-diverse new city along Atlanta’s northern border would be an unfortunate outcome of current fears and frustrations.

It is up to the Bottoms administration and the rest of city government to work harder to prevent this effort from gaining further ground.

Again, it seems a wrong solution to a much larger problem.

The Editorial Board.

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