By John Schaffner
johnschaffner@reporternewspapers.net

George N. Turner, Atlanta police chief

Atlanta’s new police chief, George N. Turner, and his staff have developed several alternative proposals for police-beat realignments and have reviewed the city’s six zones, which might have some effect on the size and configuration of Buckhead’s Zone 2.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Buckhead Reporter on Aug. 5, Chief Turner said, “We were tasked at the beginning of the year with creating a new beat redesign. We have concluded several choices and are in the process of setting up a work session to discuss these with the (City Council’s) Public Safety Committee, and then making some determinations on where we go with that.“

One concern has been the geographic size of some of the police zones. Zone 2 is the largest in the city, at 40 square miles. The second-largest is Zone 4 in southwest Atlanta, which is 38 square miles.

Zone 2 traditionally registers some of the lowest crime stats in the city, and crime is down again this year. Zone 4, which added three square miles to its geographic profile this year, is the only zone in the city that has had an uptick in crime this year, according to Turner.

Turner said any changes in beat design will cost some money. Some will simply involve the cost for computer upgrades.

“Then there is a plan that is more aggressive that would establish additional beats,” he explained. “The only way we make precincts smaller is to add an additional precinct. We have looked at all the data. We have some suggestions.” He said citizens need to understand this is a working plan.

The Police Department’s national accreditation requires that “we do a yearly analysis on the changes in the city and how we adjust our resources and adjust the way we police those areas as they change.”

“Zone 2 is a great zone,” Turner said. “The Cheshire Bridge area was once part of Zone 2. As I talk to the Zone 2 community, it has no desire to have that area as part of Zone 2 again. They also would like to give up several other areas that make up the Zone 2 precinct,” the chief added. “But we have an obligation to look at the whole portion of the city and what is most appropriate for us and how we think it is best for us to police that area.”

Turner said Zone 2 has had a few weeks of upticks in property crimes, such as larceny from vehicles. “We have had a lot of vehicle break-ins. The only crime that we are up in that community is auto thefts. We had such a great year last year with auto thefts in the Zone 2 community; now we are just fighting some very low numbers, so they are higher than they were last year.

“We have moved our auto theft task force into the Zone 2 community,” Turner continued. “I have just added eight additional officers to the Zone 2 with this last class (of recruits) that was completed.”

Turner was asked about the priorities he outlined when he became interim chief Jan. 1, two of which were tackling the city’s gang problem, and aggressive panhandling.

“I would add several other things to that now. But those still are priorities,” he said.

“We talk about gangs and how they affect our crime on a regular basis,” Turner explained. “We are monitoring those gangs and providing some suppression, which means arresting folks for crimes that they commit. But we also are out there providing information to young people about what options are available and why not to join gangs.”

The police chief applauded Mayor Kasim Reed for employing 3,000 young people in programs this summer. “I think that has been a great benefit for us. The young people are joining gangs and getting involved in criminal activity because they just don’t have money. Actively engaging those young people, putting money in their pockets, has benefitted us. Build on those relationships. Make sure those young people have a reason to continue to stay engaged,” he stated.

‘Some successes’ on panhandling

“I was disappointed to hear that 50 percent of young black males in the city of Atlanta school system drop out of school,” he said. “Then you look at the number of people that are in our penal institutions that are dropouts. About 80 percent of people in penal institutions around the country are dropouts,” he added.

In terms of panhandling, Turner said, “We have had some successes.” He said that at a recent Hotel Council meeting, the director of the Atlanta Mart talked about a recently concluded show. “They had about 75,000 people at the three-day show. They got no complaints about panhandling,” Turner said. “We cannot afford to lose the events that come to our city. Our economic status of the city of Atlanta is going to be turned around because of our public safety. Citizens and visitors, if they do not feel safe, are not coming. If we can’t work with all of our partners in Buckhead, Midtown and downtown, we don’t stand a chance of getting people to come here for leisurely pleasures, for conventions, to tour our city.”

Turner is a native Atlantan. “I spent the first nine years of my life in Perry Homes. I think it was a different place in 1959-68. I just knew it as home. Mom and Dad were there and struggling. I didn’t know they were struggling. I had brothers and sisters, and that was home.”

Turner said when he went to Zone 1 as a lieutenant, “we had 14 housing projects at the time, and it was always, for lack of a better word, a hellhole for police-officer work. It was a precinct that always led the way for the number of violent crimes that occurred on a daily basis.

“When I went back to Zone 1 as a precinct commander, I thought the only way that we were going to have any success was to have a good relationship with the community. I began to talk and understand what the needs were in the community,” Turner explained. “We formed more than a handful of block programs in the zone and began to partner with communities and get them on board about how they wanted their community to be policed. We then came back and talked to them about the successes we had and the challenges they were concerned about.”

‘Every person… has to be accountable’

To this day, Turner said, he speaks regularly to some of those same partners he developed in Zone 1. “I am very concerned that what we did then we can replicate around the city. I think that is what we are doing,” he added.

Asked about his leadership style, Turner said, “I would say it is more of a dispersed leadership style. I think that every person in the organization has to be accountable for the responsibility they have; providing the leadership, letting those folks know what their responsibilities are, and holding people accountable for their responsibilities,” he said.

“I am a participatory manager. I am out. I want to see what people are doing and determine if they are doing what I have given them instructions to do at every level,” he added.

Asked if that meant he would be mostly in the city, Turner said, “I think it is important that we have a presence on the international level, the national level and also on the state level. I went to the Georgia Chiefs Conference, where we have not been very good at that. We are the largest law enforcement agency in the state. At the same time, we have not had any presence in the state chiefs association,” he explained. “And the fall conference is always held in the city of Atlanta. I think it is important that we should provide leadership for the state as well.”

“I attended 90 community meetings since January,” Turner said. “I attended 10 national nights out — a very aggressive schedule. I think that being out in the public is important for citizens to see and talk and be able to approach the chief of police.

“That is who I am,” Turner stated. “I said that my leadership style is participatory. I cannot get the flavor of what is going on in the city unless I am out in the city.”