Editor’s Note: On Feb. 10, new Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields outlined her public safety vision for the city during a news conference. On Feb. 20, we talked to the chief one-on-one to get more details about her plan to reduce crime.
By Collin Kelley
New Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields has outlined her public safety plan for the city.
Shields said during her first press conference in January and in a follow up interview with Atlanta INtown that she had been working with colleagues reviewing critical needs for the city and acknowledged that while crime is down, APD can do better.
“There has been a 27 percent reduction in crime under Mayor [Kasim] Reed,” Shields said, “but when people believe their safety is an issue, data is useless. I think people are tired of hearing data.”
The chief said reduction of violent crime is the department’s number one priority.
Shields said APD would be contacting property owners and managers at a handful of apartment complexes that have some of the most violent crime in the city. She also said the department would be focusing on repeat offenders “who have no ambition in life except to victimize others.”
Shields said repeat offenders are causing most of the crime, and many have 25 to 50 arrests, but gaps in the criminal justice system allow them back on the streets.
“We are going to rein in the relatively small number of repeat offenders doing most of the crime,” she promised.
“We have to get everyone on the same page – police, prosecutors, judges – and acknowledge that these gaps in the system exist,” Shields said. “There has to be a change in how criminals are sentenced and how bonds are issued. It could be changed right now, but they’ve gotten into the practice of doing things in a certain way. It perpetuates the cycle of criminal behavior and the offenders know there aren’t any consequences.”
Another high priority will be working to curb juvenile crime. “The juvenile justice system is not working,” Shields said, noting that five juveniles in the city have more than 100 arrests between them at such early ages.
Shields said young, black males are growing up with nothing in their lives, including absent or disinterested parents, no structure, education and often hungry for food. That leads to joining gangs and engaging in criminal behavior.
“APD has no desire to lock up young, black men. Too many young, black men have been locked up for no reason, but there has to be a middle ground between locking them up and sending them back to nothing. These kids matter to us.”
She said APD would be working with partners to develop programs to reach out to the top 100 juvenile offenders and steer them away from criminality. One tool will be the new At-Promise Youth Center on the Westside. This 17,000 square-foot facility will be transformed into a state-of-the-art space with specialized services for youth and residents focused on educational advancement, mental health, social/emotional learning and workforce development.
Speaking about recent armed robberies on the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail, Shield said there is “very little crime there, but when something happens it garners an enormous amount of attention.” But the chief is sensitive to the city’s popular amenity and said upgrading lighting, adding more cameras and better signage so users know where they are on the trail are on the way. She said officers’ hours have been shifted so they are patrolling the BeltLine later, especially when people are leaving bars and restaurants along the trail.
Shields said improving APD’s technology, recruitment and retention of police officers and a new four-year pay plan were also on her vision list for the future.