By Meredith Pruden
The 12 percent reduction in Zone 2 criminal activity for 2006 seems to say it all: Major James Sellers is tough on crime as the Atlanta Police Department’s Zone 2 commander. But there is more to Sellers than may initially meet the eye. He is also actively involved with the surrounding community and its organizations, an advocate of collaboration in order to curb the incidence of crime and a proponent of the need for full disclosure to the public.
Sellers came to Zone 2 – the area loosely defined to the north, west and east by the Atlanta city limits and to the south by the Chattahoochee River, the rail lines and the Connector – only a little more than one year ago after more than 20 years of service at the Atlanta Police Department. During his career Sellers has held a wide range of both uniformed assignments and supervisory positions including time with the Red Dog unit, internal affairs and as the major of the special enforcement section. It was this expertise that landed him his current post.
“What they said was, ‘Go out there to Zone 2 and do what you’ve done for the special enforcement section’,” Sellers said. “Get it working properly, but really when I got here the goal from Chief Pennington was set for every zone commander: reduce crime by five percent.”
Under Sellers’ leadership Zone 2 won the department’s 2006 Crime Fighter of the Year award and was one of only two APD zones to meet or exceed Pennington’s expectation.
Sellers said he values the opinions of everyone on his team and asked officers and supervisors how they thought it best to lower crime in the Zone. The consensus was a general need to make better arrests.
“If an officer makes an arrest for disorderly conduct and he goes downtown he might be out of service for an hour or more,” Sellers said. “While he’s downtown for a petty arrest who is on his beat? We’re trying to focus on better arrests. As some would say, ‘Get the sharks not the dolphins.’”
Much of Sellers’ strategy depends on an increase in police visibility both in the shopping areas and the residential districts through the use of foot and bicycle patrols, police roadblocks and also based on what he referred to as ‘the 10 hotspots,’ which rotate week-to-week.
He said he also relies heavily on the community grapevine to help make Buckhead a safer place to live, work and shop.
“I really try to stay in touch with the community and the business leaders because there are so many positive people in this area who want to make their neighborhood better,” Sellers said. “If I make myself available they’re going to give me good ideas.”
One of the top networking opportunities on Sellers’ calendar is the weekly Buckhead Business Association breakfast meeting.
“I try to go to as many of those as I can and talk to the people there and let them be aware,” Sellers said. “If you can reach those people then they reach all the people they know. Word of mouth is powerful with them.”
The BBA has noticed Sellers’ attentive policy and recently bestowed upon him its annual Bullish on Buckhead award, which he said he felt was a true honor.
“He gives us the respect and priority, which we enjoy and we in turn feel as though he’s so accessible to us and works with us so diligently,” said BBA Vice President of Public Safety Don Vellek. “It was the perfect time to recognize him. The Bullish on Buckhead award is for someone who has done something really productive for Buckhead without looking for the glory behind it.”
Leading Zone 2 is only one thing in Sellers’ life that he does without seeking glory. He also has plans underway to build a community center in Nigeria using the Global Peace Containers architectural design, which uses abandoned shipping containers dumped in third world countries as building materials. So far, Sellers has been to the impoverished African nation three times in as many years in an attempt to facilitate the center’s progress.
“I like to go to dangerous places, places where there are problems and see how they handle it,” Sellers said. “The Nigerian people are some of the nicest people in the world irrespective of what the representation here is. I just said, ‘There’s got to be something I can do to help.’ Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa and if the whole world wants to write them off then there are going to be more problems.”
It is that kind of dedication, which Sellers pours into everything he does, that also makes him such a resounding success at Zone 2.
“Major Sellers is just a heck of a nice guy,” Vellek said. “He’s not arrogant. He’s not imperial. He’s so sincere when he speaks you can just tell it’s coming from his heart, and I really respect that about him.”