Saturday, June 13, 2009

I say something good about Mary Norwood, and more thoughts on the APD

Scott Henry has a pretty good post about Mary Norwood's response to Kasim Reed's call to scale back the city's tax increase from 3 mils to 1 mil. Reed has suggested Norwood didn't have any ways to pay for ending police furloughs. Norwood's response is basically, "cut other departments," but she also points to a 12-point plan she put out in March. I missed it then, so I thought I'd comment on it now.

First, I suggest you go read her plan. It is too long to copy, but not so long that you can't read it real quick and then come back here. Considering this is one one of the most important issues facing the city, and she is one of the three legitimate candidates, you should really take five minutes to know what she has to say.

Okay. First, Scott is right that she still doesn't have a plan to pay for it all. However, I like a lot of the ideas. More cops are good, pay raises and competitive benefits are good, and you probably need to do the second to do the first. I also like the broken-windows theory stuff - when I dated someone over on the west side of town this was something I thought about often. Simple code enforcement and street clean up goes a long way to making people feel safer and deterring an atmosphere which allows crime to perpetuate.

I am curious about her "move cops from behind the desk onto the street" idea. I don't know enough about the police department to know if you can realistically do that - are there cops that COULD be working the street that are stuck at City Hall East behind a desk, where you could replace them with an administrative assistant-type person? Would that be cheaper to train and easier to keep, allowing us to free up resources for on-the-street cops?

I think the"'get Atlanta cops to buy Atlanta homes" idea is good on paper, but will run into problems. First, the kind of homes Atlanta cops can buy would be crappy homes and/or in the rough parts of town. Most cops would prefer to live in the 'burbs, as much as I think that sucks. Second, helping that many cops live in the city would be VERY expensive. I'd really want to know how she intends to help - it sounds like she wants to use vacant/foreclosed homes. Not sure how many cops are going to jump at that offer.

Still, this is more than I've heard from the other candidates in terms of concrete ideas beyond "more cops" and "end the furloughs". I'm actually a little inclined to give Norwood a pass on the "how do you pay for it" stuff. Until you get into office it is hard to know ... wait a minute. How long has she been on the city council? Since 2001? How many budgets has she voted on? WTF? She should know what she is going to cut.

Things I'd like to see added to her 12-point plan (which sounds juuust a bit to campaign-gimmicky for my tastes):
  • Reform the police department - do a thorough analysis of their organizational structure and culture to determine why morale is so low. Replace senior management, i.e. Pennington. Analyze their business processes to determine where cuts can be made, how to improve operations to help make officers' work easier. By "business processes" I mean the things that the police do to conduct their business - how do they go about booking people? Filing reports? How are shift changes managed?

    I got a ticket the other day for rolling through a stop sign, and it took the officer FOREVER to write up the ticket. First, this was an officer that could have been doing something WAY more useful than waiting for folks to roll through stop signs on the way to the gym (he had two more folks pulled over in the same parking lot when I left the gym an hour later). Couldn't we have traffic officers who aren't "full" cops doing this? Second, why did writing a ticket take ten minutes? Figure out what is taking him so long to write down my name and the fine, so that he can get back out on patrol.
  • Work with state and county legislators to find ways to reduce recidivism. One of Mark Kleiman's ideas is to reform the parole system so that penalties are smaller, swifter and more reliable. He writes:
    ... the criminally active population overrepresents not only those with poor noncriminal opportunities, but also the strongly present-oriented, reckless, and impulsive. This latter group has exaggerated versions of the normal human tendencies ... to give undue weight to the immediate future over the even slightly longer term, and to underweight small risks of large disasters by comparison with high probabilities of small gains. Thus, efforts to control crime by increasing the severity of punishment will quickly hit the point of diminishing returns.
    Maybe put together a metro-wide group to look into our criminal justice system, because Gwinnett and DeKalb are having crime issues, too.
  • Get the police better gear. This is something that I've heard (second-hand) is a constant complaint among officers. Officers are using older, heavier equipment. Get 'em new, reliable equipment so they don't have to carry around as much weight all day, and so they can move faster in emergencies.
  • Think big - I'd like someone to explore the idea of using that 3-mill tax increase to transform the APD into a "best in class" type of department. I think you could sell the city on a tax increase if you said, "Listen, the APD is fucked. So let's spend as much as we have to in order to get it right. We are going to get new equipment, hire world-class consultants to restructure the department, re-configure the business processes, make it a goal to have the best police department in the country." Do for the APD what we did for public housing - develop a model that the rest of the country wants to copy.


  1. I don't think anyone would argue with her basic points, which I interpret as saying that a more robust police force with higher morale is better for the city. She has also hinted heavily at APD reform: her dissatisfaction with Pennington has been made clear, and her somewhat quaint approach to bureaucracy is not in line with the current Department's administrative structure (though sometimes I wonder if she fully understands the complexity of labor unions, governing state laws and intra-departmental politics in creating such systems). What stumps me is that she insists on there being enough revenue in city finances to simply transfer it from other uses without generating more through property taxes. Remember that City Hall has reduced its business hours (9 hours a day Monday through Thursday, closed Fridays, and all staff accordingly took 10 percent pay cuts). This comes in addition to four rounds of layoffs in a year, including nearly 100 positions eliminated from the Department of Watershed Management (which has a penny sales tax revenue stream and does not rely on general fund/property taxes for its funding).

    I simply don't see where else it can come from: property values are down, retail sales are down, and City staff has already been trimmed to the bone. I suspect Mary might see fit to eliminate some departments altogether, which is about the only step remaining, but she has given no specific details as to which one(s).

    I am also flummoxed by her somewhat vague proposal to 'put vacant and foreclosed housing to work.' Surely she understands that foreclosed housing (which I would guess exceeds the supply of truly vacant, abandoned housing that has fallen into city ownership through non-payment of property taxes) is not owned by the city, but rather by banks who expect to recoup something of its value in a sale. Does she seriously propose getting this broke, understaffed city into the business of speculating and short-buying defaulted mortgages? Where would *that* money come from?

  2. As far as getting "Atlanta Cops to buy Atlanta homes," I think that should be a given. Here's an idea; have the city use eminent domain and pick out properties or areas so that a person who is willing to do the tough job of a police officer can actually live in a nice part of the city that he/she defends? Why do we expect people to drive into Atlanta to serve and protect us and then drive an hour away to the suburbs to get home because that's the only place they can live? It's ridiculous and it needs to change.

    If we can use eminent domain for large construction projects, we can certainly use as an enticement for people who were willing to take the most dangerous jobs in this city.

    Make it attractive to become a police officer and we will be able to attract the best. My fiancee's purse got snatched a few days ago and while the officer that we were able to track down was extremely nice, I actually got rerouted twice over the phone, losing valuable time. Law Enforcement is so vital to a well and functioning city, I am all for paying more taxes if the money is more efficiently used to revamp the police department. Unfortunately, I don't think that would be the case.


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