Atlanta police Maj. Van Hobbs addresses the crowd during a Sept. 10 community meeting while, seated, left to right, Deputy Chief Joe Spillane, Chief George Turner, Police Foundation President Dave Wilkinson and Assistant Chief Shawn Jones, listen.
Atlanta police Maj. Van Hobbs addresses the crowd during a Sept. 10 community meeting while, seated, left to right, Deputy Chief Joe Spillane, Chief George Turner, Police Foundation President Dave Wilkinson and Assistant Chief Shawn Jones, listen.

Scores of Buckhead residents, voicing anger and fear over recent high-profile crimes, recently told top Atlanta police officials that homeowners want more officers to patrol their community.

“Our concern is house break-ins…We’re worried about the sanctity of our houses and the safety of our houses,” resident Brink Dickerson said during a public meeting Sept. 10. “Zone 2 needs more cops. There’s a well-known joke that if you see a cop in Chastain Park, you should stop and offer directions, because he’s lost.”

Many of the more than 150 residents attending the gathering at The Lodge at Peachtree Presbyterian Church applauded as Dickerson told police officials, including Chief George Turner, that “we need more cops that are visible and on our streets more of the time. … We feel a little underserved right now.”

Maj. Van Hobbs, who commands the Zone 2 precinct, which includes Buckhead, said police are responding by putting more officers in areas where crimes regularly occur.

“We will get resources,” he said. “We will put them up here and we’ll turn it around.”

Residents indicated they have been on edge since three home invasions earlier this year and more than 100 car break-ins during a single week in September.

Turner said the APD now “has more police officers on the street than we’ve ever had in this city.” The agency is authorized to employ 2,034 officers and now has only about 70 vacancies to fill, he said. The department has about 100 recruits in training, he said.

But Turner told the crowd he also thought Buckhead needed more officers on patrol. “I agree with you that you need more police officers,” he said. “We need more police officers in the city.”

Police officials said that in addition to the officers on the street, the department uses high-tech crime-fighting equipment, including a network of cameras spread throughout the city. Keeping an eye on the cameras creates “smart policing,” Dave Wilkinson, president of the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation, said. The department now monitors about 5,700 cameras and plans to install as many as 10,000, he said.

But homeowners weren’t satisfied. “We can talk about cameras all we want to, but we need more policemen in our neighborhoods,” Jana Unterman said.

“We can all agree on that,” Turner said.

“We’ve got to have officers on the street,” Unterman continued.

“We’ve got more police officers on the street than we’ve had in this city,” Turner said.

“We need more,” Unterman replied.

Residents pointed to a series of car break-ins and reports of home invasions and said they had seen reports on social media of people driving through their neighborhoods as if scouting houses for possible thefts. Others said outsiders would knock on their doors, as if to see whether anyone would answer.

Lindsey Yarborough told the officials a man came to her door pretending to sell magazines and kept trying to get in for 10 minutes after she called 911. “He stood at my door for 10 minutes and did everything he could to gain access to my home,” she said.

The man was released on bond and faces a court hearing later this month on a charge of soliciting without a license, she said. “The reality is he committed a crime that was much worse than what he’s charged with,” she said.

One resident said she didn’t sleep well because of her fears about crime in the community. Another shouted a question from the back of the room asking if she could shoot strangers at her door. “Not for knocking on your door,” Turner replied.

Another resident held up a computer printout that he said showed a dramatic increase in some types of crime in Zone 2.

“Rape is up 50 percent in Zone 2,” he said. “I want to know what you’re going to do in Zone 2 about rape! … Long-term [solutions] we heard about. But what are going to do about the short term? Short term, what are we going to do… to stop the madness?”

Hobbs said the rape statistics did not show the full picture. The increase in reports was from 13 to 18, he said. Some of those assaults were crimes that were reported this year, but did not occur this year, he said. Others involved people who knew one another or had been together socially before the attack. Only a single report involved a stranger-on-stranger attack.

“One [rape] is too many,” he said, “but we don’t have a serial rapist running around.”

Still, residents said they did not feel safe in their neighborhoods.

“There is a feeling of being a sitting duck,” one resident said.

To read a related article on cameras and license tag readers in Buckhead, click here

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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