Matzigkeit: "Buckhead Blue" AJC Op-Ed
Posted on Oct 19th, 2020
In case you missed it, I wanted to share with you a column I was asked to write on the recent surge of lawlessness in Atlanta and Buckhead. It appeared in the Sunday edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Additionally, I want you to be aware of movement in cracking down on so-called street racing.
Although Atlanta police have made more than 500 arrests, the accused have been released on bond because Municipal Court has been closed due to COVID-19. That has allowed those arrested to return to the streets. This week Chief Municipal Judge Christopher T. Portis ruled that those arrested for street racing will no longer be eligible automatically for bond. Now, offenders will have to appear before a judge 24 to 48 hours after their arrest before they can receive a bond. This should slow or stop the revolving door of street racers, police believe. Municipal Court is scheduled to reopen at the end of October. Convictions for street racing can result in six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
I represent District 8 on the Atlanta City Council, which is the western half of Buckhead. As an elected official, public safety is my highest priority. Unfortunately, Atlanta is not feeling particularly safe right now.
Crime statistics tell a mixed story. Overall crime in Atlanta is down 21% through the first three quarters of 2020, though violent crime is on the rise. We had 102 homicides through October 3rd, a 36% increase from a year ago, and aggravated assaults are up 7%, 1,649 versus 1,534 last year.
District 8 is part of APD’s Zone 2, which covers all of Buckhead. Overall, Zone 2 crime is down 19% year-over-year. And while our murders are the same as last year at 6, auto thefts are up 14% year to date, and up 63% in the last 28 days.
I’ll leave it to the experts to tell us what is going on, but there is no denying the perception that something is wrong in Atlanta.
Perhaps more unnerving than the crime statistics is the lawlessness seen throughout Atlanta and our seeming inability to stop it. When we stop at busy intersections and are aggressively confronted by youth peddling bottled water, we feel unsafe. When we are awakened by middle-of-the-night drag races and see next-day “doughnuts” left by screeching tires, we are angry. When we hear accounts of gun fights on our streets, we wonder if we could get caught in the mix. And when we see clubs masquerading as restaurants full of mask-less revelers, we wonder why laws are not enforced.
Atlantans, including those in my district, need and deserve answers.
My district has 27 neighborhood associations. Nearly all hire private off-duty officers to provide the protection they feel their neighborhood needs. Buckhead’s neighborhoods are relatively safe, as most Zone 2 crime occurs in or near the commercial corridors and is connected to cars.
An idea has surfaced to have similar off-duty patrols in the Buckhead business districts, and I am part of a group of elected officials, business and neighborhood leaders exploring this possibility. For years, Midtown has had the “Midtown Blue” off-duty officer program that supplements APD officers. It would cost millions annually, but I believe a similar “Buckhead Blue” is our best shot to provide the temporary relief needed. To me, it’s not a matter of if, but how we should do it.
Note I used the word “temporary.” Atlantans should not be expected to pay taxes AND contribute privately to feel safe and secure. We need to get to our full budgeted complement of 2,000+ uniformed officers. They need to be well-trained, well-paid, well-led and reflective of our diverse city. You can tell a lot about a place by the quality of its police.
Like many, I’m frustrated. Three straight 10%-a-year pay raises have helped, but we must also train and retain our police better. That’s how we get better. That’s how we serve all Atlantans with the dignity and respect they deserve. That’s why I’m working hard for our officers and am strongly against defunding our police.
I tip my hat to the indefatigable Atlanta Police Foundation. It has led the campaign for safety cameras, which are said to cut crime by 20% where present. The Foundation works with troubled youth. It recently helped fund a study for the city for when and how dangerous police chases can be conducted. I hope someone reads it. We need to be able to pursue violent criminals while at the same time keeping our citizens safe.
There is no lack of enthusiasm and interest from those most concerned about safety --- citizens themselves. It’s our elected and city officials who must recognize and embrace the notion that safety needs to come first.
We are at war against crime and we need to start acting like it. -J.P. Matzigkeit, District 8 Council Member