Thursday, January 8, 2009

Who has any answers?

I'm not sure what more there is to say about a rise in crime in the city.  I'm personally not a fan of using high profile incidents to drive public policy in place of facts and data, but the shooting at the Standard seems to have gotten people worked up.  It seems like a good idea to actually look at the data, since we are all going to be talking about this stuff anyway.  

The Mayor and the Chief of Police will tell you that crime is down.  Thomas Wheatley's article has lots of quotes from neighborhoods saying the opposite.  And you get this gem from the article on theMayor's State of the City address the other day:
But Atlanta police Sgt. Scott Kreher told reporters Monday property crimes are rising, largely because the department needs more officers. He said the recent furloughs of police officers will result in more crime and lower morale among officers.

“It’s in the tank,” Kreher, leader of Atlanta’s police union, said of morale. “It’s the worst I’ve seen in my 17 years.”
There is obviously some political angling there, as the police union has a motive to talk about cuts to officer compensation, but it is no secret that morale is in the ditch at City Hall East.  Just look at the department's retention numbers.  Finally, if you go to the comments in the linked CL article above, you'll see that Andisheh has cut through a lot of the Police Chief's obfuscation to look at the real numbers:
The fact is, after historic declines, crime in Atlanta has risen sharply in recent years.

In 2007, crime declined nationally, but jumped double digits in Atlanta.

There were 89 murders in Atlanta in 2005, but 129 murders in 2007.

As of Oct 2008, overall crime in Atlanta was up 6% from the previous year.

Atlanta had fewer murder in '08 than '07, but it's still up from '05.

And property crime in Atlanta continues to soar.

Burglary and larceny, the crimes that most often effect regular people, were both up more than 10% from the previous year as of Oct 2008.

source (PDF, see page 23)
I've tried to keep up with what has been going on with the Police Department and the rise in crime, and you can see my previous posts on the topic by scrolling through the Police Dept. tag.  Buzz at Peach Pundit asks how much of an issue the police department and crime will be in the Mayoral race this year.  This is what I wrote in June:
None of this changes the fact that crime and perceptions of safety are major, major issues for the city of Atlanta. They are issues that will be defining my opinions on the next mayoral race. Unfortunately, at this point, I don't have any new ideas. I don't want to vote for someone who thinks they are "tough on crime" - I need a candidate who actually has a solution.
Obviously I agree that this is an issue that needs to be debated, and that I'm hoping Mayoral candidates will talk about.  I'm not an expert in public policy on this issue - heck, I hardly know anything about the nuts and bolts of crime prevention.  So what follows is a layman's take on things.

It is important to realize that the debate can't just be about needing "more cops on the street."  That is obviously an important piece, but the police are an inherintly reactionary force.  This isn't the Minority Report where we can predict where people are going to commit crimes and go prevent them.  

The police only get a call once a crime is committed, and then we hope they can catch the folks who did it.  The ability of police to catch these folks should be able to have an effect on crime, because violent felons tend to have prior convictions:
Fifty-six percent of the violent felons convicted in the 75 most populous counties from 1990 through 2002 had a prior conviction, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Of the offenders with prior felony records, the study found that at the time of the new crime 18 percent were on probation, 12 percent on release pending disposition of a prior case and 7 percent on parole.
Wouldn't this suggest that we need more detectives and officers in special units like the Narcotics division, rather than patrolling officers, which tends to get all the attention?  I'm not excited about the idea of living in a police state where cops drive by all the time because we think they can interrupt a crime in progress.  

I would just like to have enough cops on duty so they can respond to calls in a timely manner and catch the criminals.  What are the odds that the guys who shot the server at the Standard had never committed a crime before?  Having said that, I'm wary about mandatory sentencing and political efforts to increase penalties on convicts.  I think we need to decide if we believe people can be rehabilitated, or if we are sending them to jail simply keep them away from society.  In a lot of ways, our prison system basically teaches minor ciminals how to be serious criminals.  

We also have to look at other issues, like housing policy.  Foreclosure have a real effect on crime:
Galster theorizes that every neighborhood has its tipping point—a threshold well below a 40 percent poverty rate—beyond which crime explodes and other severe social problems set in. Pushing a greater number of neighborhoods past that tipping point is likely to produce more total crime.
I'm not really sure what the answers are, but it is time we start talking about them instead of hiding behind toothless review boards and bogus statistics.  The first step is admitting there is a problem.


  1. Great article and interesting breakdown of the stats.

  2. One idea keeps popping into my head: A restaurant, end of the business day, cash on hand, very late, only 2 folks inside, on a sleazy street with good access to the interstates, thinking the neighborhood has come back, an evening serving nice folks, just doing your job, feeling safe.

    These folks were sitting ducks. Shouldn't be that way but there you are.

    I'm sure these criminals are casing other vulnerable restaurants right now.


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