Buckhead residents say they want more Atlanta Police officers on the streets to deter crime in their neighborhood including armed robberies and car break-ins.
About 50 people gathered at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church located off Moores Mill Road at a public safety meeting hosted by Atlanta City Councilmember Felicia Moore and featuring several members of APD’s command staff.
Residents raised questions ranging from how many officers patrol Zone 2, which includes Buckhead, to how many officers are on the police force itself with several people say they were concerned about the police shortage in Atlanta.
Deputy Chief Joseph Spillane said the department has 120 vacancies out of 2,033 officers. Zone 2 has approximately 120 officers, but that includes those on administrative duties and crime scene investigators, said Major Van Hobbs, Zone 2 commander. Zone 2 is 40 square miles. There are also 78 beats in the city with 13 beats in Zone 2.
Spillane said the department would soon be getting back about 78 police officers to put on beats because Atlanta Public Schools is creating its own police force.
“We’re very frustrated especially because of car break-ins and armed robberies,” said Kevin Price of Ridgewood Heights.
On May 9, for example, a man was exercising in the park off Ridgeway Avenue when two men grabbed his backpack containing a MacBook Pro, iPhone and recording equipment. The two men ran with the bag and when the jogger chased them, one of the men pulled a gun on him and said, “I will shoot you” and they escaped in a black car. Then on May 21, a man jogging on Ridgewood Road was robbed at gunpoint by a juvenile who fled in a black sedan.
Hobbs said police try to deter crime through visibility — by pulling someone over to issue a citation or a ticket, the officer flashes blue lights and lets people know police are in the area. Robberies are also taking precedent over car break-ins, he said, due in part to the police shortage.
Many APD officers are recruited from neighboring cities, including Dunwoody and Brookhaven, Spillane said.
“I had a lieutenant who was making $58,000 a year in Atlanta and he went to Brookhaven where he is making $79,000. Younger people are looking for immediate money and don’t care about better pension or benefits,” Spillane said.
Moore and other council members and Mayor Kasim Reed are looking at pay differences compared to surrounding cities, Spillane said.
“We have some assurances they will look at pay disparities. One reason officers are leaving is because of the pay,” he said. “We do the best we can with the resources we have.”
Hobbs said he was fortunate in Zone 2 to not have many officers transfer to other departments but rather to different specialized units within the APD.
Today’s culture is not “pro-police,” Spillane said, which also makes it harder to recruit new officers.