Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ recently unveiled plan to ramp up policing in an effort to crack down on crime is getting a stamp of approval from some of the city’s most prominent Black leaders.
Less than two years after the controversial Atlanta Police killing of Rayshard Brooks, local Black politicians and civil rights leaders say they’re still worried about police brutality, but are also responding to public safety concerns about crime raised by members of their communities.
Some of those concerns include dealing with gun violence, gang activity, street racing, and auto thefts.
“I have confidence that Mayor Dickens is going to try doing the best thing for the community,” Atlanta NAACP President Richard Rose said. “Those are good conversations to have and basically [are] reacting to some of the complaints from the public.”
Rose’s remarks came days after Dickens and leaders from the Atlanta Police Department announced plans to add more officers to the city’s ranks, increase police surveillance and ramp up patrols to deter rising crime.
The 158 homicides APD investigated last year were a 30-year high for the city, according to police crime stats, but Atlanta already is on pace to surpass those numbers this year.
Thirty-one homicides were committed in Atlanta between Jan. 1 and March 12 compared to just 23 during the same period a year ago, an estimated 35% increase, according to APD records.
Causes for the increase in some categories of crime include a pandemic-related rise in financial stress due to unemployment and poverty, according to Tiffany Williams Roberts, public policy director for the Southern Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit public interest law firm.
Roberts expressed concern about ramping up policing as a solution to a rise in violent crime.
“The resources that are poured into solutions to harm are dwarfed by the resources poured into law enforcement only,” she said. “I doubt very seriously there’s going to be an impact on violence using this approach.”
Addressing the media earlier this month, the city’s new mayor made it clear he won’t be soft on crime.
“I want to stress to the would-be offenders out there that if you think you want to commit a crime in this city, you may want to think again,” Dickens told reporters during a press conference at the city’s public safety headquarters. “We have our eyes on you and you will be caught.”
The mayor pointed out that 72% of Atlanta Police homicide cases have ended with an arrest so far this year, far above the 2020 national average of about 54%.
Dickens and Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said repeat offenders have been a major problem, suggesting that the bail reform policy city officials adopted in 2018 may be creating additional headaches for law enforcement and the citizens they serve.
Bryant said Atlanta officers arrested more than 20 repeat offenders the previous week alone. Those offenders had a total of 553 previous arrests, 114 of which were felonies.
Seven of those arrested had already been released on bail by the time their police report was completed, according to Bryant.
“These are the challenges that the men and women of the Atlanta Police Department are facing as well as the citizens who are victimized by these individuals,” he said.
City Council member Michael Julian Bond said he was “encouraged” that Dickens and Bryant are going after repeat offenders, which he said harkens back to policies implemented during Mayor Kasim Reed’s eight years in office beginning in 2010.
“The Reed administration had done a study and had identified about 600 people that continually make crime their vocation,” Bond said. “We have to continually reform the police and the practices, making sure we’re screening for the best candidates that don’t have the proclivities to commit these violent acts and violate people’s rights. But at the same time we have to make sure we’re accountable for the communities that want to be safer.”
Bond challenged the notion that Black Atlantans are more concerned about police brutality than crime.
“What I’ve heard from constituents is that during the Black Lives Matter movement, I guess the peak of the movement, there has still been a call for people to want more police and to feel safer in their communities,” he said. “These constituents recognize there are issues in the police department, but they still want to see police in their communities because they’re the victims of crime.”
Dickens and Bryant also recommended that more city business owners sign up for the police department’s new Connect Atlanta surveillance network, which currently includes about 4,500 cameras across the city. Rose, the local NAACP president, said he approves of the Connect Atlanta program and even offered to add his home surveillance camera to it.
However, Rose cautioned that the city has to do a better job of vetting the officers it hires to ensure they’re not the type of people who will abuse their power. He pointed out that the APD officers who killed Brooks, and 22-year-old Caine Rogers in 2016, had a history of misconduct complaints and reports.
“We have to use new technology, but we also have to understand the dynamics of policing must change,” he said. “We must do a better job of evaluating these recruits for suitability. Those continue to be my concerns, not only with Atlanta, but policing in general.”