|County/City||Murders 2008||Murders 2009|
|Atlanta (In Fulton)||102||80|
I have learned that when it comes to "Urban Murder Stats" relative improvements must be accepted as "improvements none the less" even if the initial reference point from which the rates have fallen from were "very unacceptable" while the new rates are merely "unacceptable".
My perception of the year 2009 based on my monitoring of events is that this was a "Bloody Summer" suffered in Metro Atlanta. Not only the quantity of people murdered but also the heinousness of the crimes were of note. Unfortunately (from my estimates) more than 65% of these numbers listed above are Black Americans.
As we approach the "Martin Luther King Jr Holiday" where civil rights victory marches will abound all around the nation it is time to expand the marches against the "old ghosts" and start honestly talking about the "Street Pirates" who are the most frequent violators of the "Civil Rights" of Black people.
I, for one, am not a strong proponent of "police gun collection programs" and "sweeps" to do aggressive policing to go after guns. While these police tactics may indeed reduce the net number of fire arms on the streets - it fails to address the critical problem of why certain people are engaged in activities by which they are motivated to kill or injure another person using a firearm. The police oriented tactics assume that certain members of our society are not capable of expressing their Second Amendment RIGHTS of firearm ownership without violating the civil and human rights of another person that might come into contact with them.
I can't help but notice the lack of expectations placed upon the people who are community members and most prone to commit crime. What are they being asked regarding taking the lead to increase the safety of their community in support of the Permanent Interest of "Safe Streets"?
DeKalb County’s new police chief hit the target when he took aim at guns and gangs, reducing the murder rate to the lowest it’s been in nine years.
Crime remains one of the top complaints from residents, but the murder rate in DeKalb dropped almost 44 percent from 2008 to 2009 — the sharpest decrease in the metro region.
The murder rate hasn’t been that low since 2000, when the county’s population was under 600,000, acting police Chief William O’Brien said. DeKalb’s population is now 750,000.
Crime statistics released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show overall crime is down 19 percent in the county. The only crime that went up is rape.
“I wish I had the magic answer,” O’Brien told the AJC. “I changed our focus a little bit when I took over. I’m hoping it’s because of that and not a fluke.”
Political and community leaders have pointed to O’Brien’s leadership, saying he has shaken up the department in ways that include partnering with federal agents. There also has been a spike in police morale from having one of their own promoted.
DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis appointed O’Brien, a 25-year veteran, as acting chief in February after firing Chief Terrell Bolton, who came from Dallas.
“The relationship between law enforcement and the community has improved 1,000 percent,” said Embry Malone, a south DeKalb neighborhood activist and owner of the Georgia Gwizzlies, a men’s minor-league pro basketball team. “Before it was law enforcement by intimidation, my way or the highway.”
O’Brien is reluctant to take credit. Instead, he said his officers have had success getting more illegal guns off the street, which ultimately affects violent crime.
“I think it’s the hard work of the men and women on the streets, increased visibility and the rejuvenation of the command staff,” he said.
After taking office, the chief met with the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Atlanta. DeKalb officers were singled out for repeatedly requesting traces through the ATF’s nationwide intelligence database on guns seized in crimes. There was still room for improvement.
“I saw DeKalb County had violent crime above the norm,” said Greg Gant, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Atlanta office. “I looked at how we were partnering with them and I felt we could do better.”
The two started a task force, composed of two ATF agents, and five DeKalb detectives and two sergeants.
Agents and detectives work together to track career violent felons, armed drug traffickers and gangs. They research each gun seized after a crime and pursue its history.
“We focus on the worst of the worst of those folks,” Gant said. “We’re able to make more firearms trafficking cases and identify more criminal elements.”
The ATF pays for DeKalb officers’ training in tactical operations and case preparation for federal prosecution, upgrades that help bring tougher sentences. The officers also are federally deputized so they can follow cases that may move outside the county.
The result: 1,500 guns were taken off DeKalb’s streets in 2009.
Despite progress, gun violations still are one of DeKalb’s major problems.
Shortly after midnight on Jan. 1, a 4-year-old boy was shot while attending a church service with his family. The boy was struck by a bullet fired into the air that came through the roof of the Church of God of Prophecy near Decatur.
The boy’s death, DeKalb’s first homicide for 2010, remains unsolved.
“What’s scary about having a good year is you never know what to expect” next, O’Brien said.
While proud of the murder rate drop, the chief acknowledged there is still work to be done.
In addition to the task force, he credited a reorganized command structure for helping the force become more proactive. He moved the gang unit into the major felony crimes division, which investigates all murders. The move forced gang and homicide detectives to work together.
Max Dupree, former president of the East Lake Terrace Neighborhood Association, said gangs and violent crime remain a problem, but he feels safe.
“I think most crime, the shootings and murders, are criminals killing criminals,” said Dupree, an 11-year resident. “These officers are working hard, and I would be willing to pay more in taxes to fund more police positions with higher pay.”
Of the 2009 killings, 24 resulted from disputes between two parties who were not related. The second-highest motive was drugs, O’Brien said.
More officers are working the streets, but part of that might be his community paying off-duty officers to work security, Dupree said.
“There are no more home invasions, but I think they’ve stolen every flat-screen TV in East Lake,” he said. “Now they’re targeting the boutique jean stores. So we’re enjoying a bit of peace.”
Home invasions and burglaries are the biggest complaints County Commissioner Kathie Gannon has heard.
“The hard big numbers are down, but that’s not the perception of a person who wakes up and finds their car stolen or their door kicked in,” she said. “Those perceptions are we’re still unsafe. But if we can get the big numbers down, we can work on the other things.”
Crime statistics show burglaries down 15 percent and car thefts 22 percent.
Commissioner Larry Johnson is pleased with the numbers, but said residents won’t feel safe until they see more officers. He is pushing for more foot and bike patrols, along with mobile precincts that can be moved to problem neighborhoods.
“From a neighborhood perspective, the feeling of being safe is still not there,” said Johnson, the commission’s presiding officer.
Malone, the basketball coach, has seen officers’ morale improve, but not his neighbors’.
“In the ’80s and ’90s, you said you lived in DeKalb and it was beloved,” the 25-year resident said. “Now when you hear DeKalb, you say ‘Oh Lord, what happe0.ned now?’ ”
Ann Brown, president of the Belvedere Civic Club, rarely sees officers and feels crime has spiked.
“In my immediate community, we had three people murdered right here; it was the most heinous thing — an infant was killed,” said Brown, a resident for 28 years. “My neighbors, the majority of whom are seniors, are afraid to be out at a certain time after dark because of the one-on-one crime. They’re locked in.”
O’Brien wants more officers, but that’s going to be tough with the CEO’s current budget proposal, which calls for a 4.3-percent decrease in the police budget.
O’Brien and Ellis have no plans to cut any of the 1,060 officers. However, the force might lose several from a proposal to decrease the county’s retirement age to 50.
Until the commission finalizes its budget in March, the chief won’t know if he will gain, or lose, any officers. Either way, he said his officers will try to drive the numbers down more.