Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant addressed another weekend of shootings and what his department is doing to tamp down an ongoing crime wave at Monday’s city council meeting.
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore summoned Bryant to the meeting after three drive-by shootings, a pedestrian attack, and a shooting death at a Buckhead hotel. The city’s year-to-date homicide rate has ticked up to 61.
“The public is scared and doesn’t feel safe,” Moore said. “People feel they can’t jog, shop, or get gas at the gas station. This past weekend, the crime happened in Buckhead, but it’s happening all over the city. The public wants to hear action.”
Bryant said it appeared the man arrested for shooting at three joggers and striking a pedestrian with his car on Saturday was having a mental health crisis, but said the investigation was still in its early stages. The suspect Gaelen Newsom, 22, has no prior criminal history and legally purchased the handgun used in the incidents.
The chief acknowledged the proliferation of guns on the streets of Atlanta and said he was working to restructure APD to expand the gun assault unit and create a domestic violence unit. Bryant said the department remains down 400 officers after mass resignations last year during civil unrest spurred by officer-involved shootings around the country and in the city.
Moore urged Bryant to be more aggressive during this “state of emergency” and put administrative and command staff that usually sits at desks into the field. Bryant said that was part of his plan for the summer. “We will be putting more officers in locations in areas where there have been increases in crime,” the chief said.
Bryant said he was also bolstering the licensing and permit unit to crack down on restaurants that are operating illegally as nightclubs. He said the plan was to shut down these locations and other nuisance properties where violent incidents have occurred more rapidly.
He said APD would also continue to work with state and national law enforcement, including the FBI and ATF, to get violent criminals off the street. He said expanding the gang task force was underway and the department was working with schools and nonprofits to address the proliferation of juvenile offenders.
Bryant said he had heard the complaints about long wait times when calling 911 – including Councilman Antonio Brown when his car was stolen by juveniles last month – and said the department was also being restructured.
Councilman J.P. Matzigkeit said it was crucial to fill the 400 officer vacancies and recommended the city’s chief operation officer and human resources director work with APD to fill those slots. “We’re going to have money for those officers in our new budget,” Matzigkeit said.
Bryant reminded the council that many of the gun-related incidents are difficult to police because the perpetrators and victims are known to each other and involved in personal. “We’re having our greatest difficulty interrupting this kind of violence,” the chief said.