Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and interim Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant held a joint public safety briefing on Oct. 28 to discuss a spike in crime in the city, specifically an increase in homicides and the ongoing efforts to curb street racing.
Bottoms acknowledged the uptick in crime with homicides up 40 percent and aggravated assault up 10 percent. Street racing, an issue exacerbated after the coronavirus pandemic caused a decrease in traffic, continues to plague neighborhoods.
The mayor said many of the murders happening in the city were being perpetrated by those who had a “relationship or familiarity” with the victims rather than just random crimes.
“That speaks to a larger systemic issue that we continue to face as a city and as a community on how we resolve conflict,” Bottoms said. “But there are still acts of violence happening across our city that we recognize and that we have to get a handle on.”
As for street racing, Bottoms said increased citations and police patrols were having an effect, but encouraged the public to call 911 if they see a crowd gathering to watch stunts or racing. The city’s reopened municipal court has issued a temporary oder requiring street racing offenders to appear before a judge before bonding out, while the Atlanta City Council will decide on Nov 2 if that should become permanent policy.
Bryant said APD was taking steps to address street racing including increased surveillance and specialized units, erecting traffic barriers, and deepening its collaboration with federal, state, and local partners.
“We strategize every day on how to address street racing,” Bryant said. “It;s not only disturbing communities, but it’s also a dangerous act.”
Bryant and Bottoms also met with members of the Buckhead Coalition on Oct. 28 to discuss crime issues in the district, which is considering implementing its own private security patrol dubbed “Buckhead Blue.”
Sprouting from concerns about an increase in shootings and quality-of-life crimes like street racing, “Buckhead Blue” is a concept for a neighborhood-wide private police force of off-duty officers. Envisioned as a larger version of the two-decade-old “Midtown Blue,” the concept was proposed at a September community meeting by Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts, who recently moved to Peachtree Road and got an earful of street-racing noise.
“Buckhead Blue” was greeted with interest from leaders of neighborhood, business groups and some elected officials, but other community leaders have tapped the breaks saying that more data and study is needed before creating the patrol. Neither Bryant or Bottoms offered any details on their meeting with the Buckhead Coalition.
Bottoms said she would sign an administrative order on the city’s surveillance camera system, noting that 115 new cameras had been added this year and nearly 200 would be added in 2021.
Bryant noted that the morale of police officers was on the rise after a flurry of departures over the summer in the wake of social unrest and officers being fired or charged in high profile incidents like the shooting death of DUI suspect Rayshard Brooks and the violent arrests of students caught up in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. In August, Bottoms signed administrative orders that significantly altered APD’s policy on use-of-force procedures.
As Election Day approaches, Bottoms and Bryant said the city is on standby for political unrest following the Nov. 3 election. President Donald Trump has refused to agree to a peaceful transition of power should he lose the election to Joe Biden, which has raised fears of violence.
Bryant said APD had received no intelligence to suggest violence was planned in the city nor had their been any verified threats against polling locations. “Our officers will be patrolling voting sites to make sure they aren’t bothered by outside agitators,” Bryant said.
John Ruch contributed to this report.