The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods continued its call for crime reduction and court reform by introducing a resolution at its March 14 meeting where several Atlanta and county officials spoke briefly about their efforts.
The organization has helped put Buckhead’s crime in spotlight by sharing stories of recent violent crime and criticizing the Fulton County court system. Mary Norwood, a former mayor candidate who serves as the chair, pushed Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to hold a community meeting about crime. Bottoms began a town hall series that started Feb. 28 in Buckhead at the Atlanta History Center.
Norwood introduced the resolution at the meeting that about 100 people attended, including several public officials like Atlanta Police Maj. Barry Shaw, City Council President Felicia Moore, Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit and Matt Westmoreland, Fulton County Chair Robb Pitts, County Commissioner Lee Morris and a Fulton court official.
Shaw, the commander of Buckhead’s Zone 2, gave a brief update that crime is down in the neighborhood, but acknowledged that it had been trending up for months and criminals had become more “bold.”
“We’re in the number one spot for reduction compared to where we started at the beginning of the year,” Shaw said of Zone 2. “It means we’re going in the right direction. It doesn’t mean we’re satisfied or putting our feet up by any means.”
He said Buckhead residents’ advocacy has gotten attention and has led to some changes.
“I think people have begun to listen. I think it’s very safe to say the judges in Fulton, you have their attention,” he said. “We have already begun to see…people sitting up straighter.”
Shaw also discussed the police zone realignment, which will shed two border-area beats from Zone 2.
The resolution, which also includes recommendations from District 8 Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit, calls for a wide range of steps for the city, county and residents to take.
The resolution, which will be voted on by the council at a later meeting, calls for the city and county to ensure repeat offenders are treated appropriately; judges know the full criminal histories of defendants; businesses create a safety plan including security cameras and guards; and police officers write detailed reports, among others.
Residents and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields have criticized Fulton judges for often granting bond to defendants with long criminal records or other obvious issues. Making sure judges have the full criminal history could help that, Matzigkeit said.
“If you are a repeat offender and you’ve continued to commit these acts…if you have an ankle bracelet when they catch you, in my view, you are a threat to the community and you need to stay in jail,” Matzigkeit said.
The resolution also states the council supports the “Adopt a Judge” program started by Taryn Chilivis Bowman, a local business owner and sometime political candidate. The “Fulton County Judicial Accountability Task Force,” its official name, right now is a basic sign-up sheet where a resident agrees to follow a particular judge in any Fulton court, learn about their background, show up in their courtrooms, and find out when they are up for election or who appointed them.
It follows concern from residents and officials that Fulton judges let defendants free immediately without full knowledge of their criminal records – though the nature of the complaints vary.
Removed from the resolution was support for state House Bill 340 and Senate Bill 164. The bills did not get a vote before Crossover Day, meaning they are likely dead for this session. Councilmember Matt Westmoreland spoke about his opposition to the legislation, providing new details that changed the council’s support for it, Norwood said.
The bills would prevent cities from eliminating their Municipal Court’s cash bond requirement for some low-level offenders of city code, like jaywalking, as Atlanta has done. The cash bond meant that many Atlanta residents without a few hundred dollars to spare would have to sit in jail while others were able to pay, Westmoreland said.
It’s not the same type of crimes the council is concerned about, so they decided to cut it from the resolution, Norwood said.
The resolution also asks to eliminate the “Complaint Room,” where the Fulton County District Attorney’s office reviews facts and decides if a case should be prosecuted, and reinstate probable cause hearings in Municipal Court.
Probable cause hearings allowed prosecutors to get more detailed information from officers because the officers are present, which could be done through video conferencing, said Ken Allen a former Atlanta Police union representative. The Complaint Room was meant to streamline the process, but has not worked well, Allen said.