Ronnie Mayer felt fear when he drove up to his house on Brookhaven’s Redding Road late one recent night and discovered someone rustling in a neighbor’s car.

Mayer said he and his wife had been to a gala event and he was dressed in a tuxedo. And because of his attire, he was only carrying a derringer and not his typical .40-caliber handgun.

When he pulled his derringer out, he said, the person in the car came out with a Ruger handgun.

“This goes from petty theft to him being a felon,” Mayer said of the alleged thief, describing the incident at a recent City Council meeting. Mayer pulled out of his driveway and left the scene and called police. He said he believed there was a problem with homeless people in the city and was upset the police department did not respond with a canine unit to try to track the armed person.

“Everybody is now scared to death,” he said of a rash of car break-ins in Ashford Park and other neighborhoods.

Chief Gary Yandura said the reason no canine was sent out at Mayer’s request is because it was raining that night — something Mayer failed to mention to city officials —and a dog cannot track in wet conditions.

But the department does take seriously the issue of car break-ins, which continues to be a problem in Brookhaven and all of metro Atlanta.

In January and February of this year, 40 car break-ins were reported each month in Brookhaven from throughout the city, Yandura said. There were 58 car break-ins reported in March, bringing the total for the first three months of 2018 to 138.

“For the same time period in 2016 we had a total of 123 and in 2017 we had 116,” Yandura said.

This year, though, thanks largely to newly installed surveillance cameras and license plate readers in the city, police have so far made 13 arrests of people breaking into cars as well as four arrests of people with stolen cars, he said.

Those numbers are up significantly from only two arrests for car break-ins during the same time frame in 2016 and one arrest in 2017.
“If you check with all surrounding agencies, I think you’ll find the same trends with even higher numbers,” Yandura added. “This is not a new problem. Car break-ins continue to plague the entire metro area.”

The department is not understaffed, Yandura said, with nearly 70 officers on duty and several more being hired in the coming weeks. The department is authorized to hire up to 77 officers.

The Brookhaven Police Department is experiencing success in making arrests through its Georgia Power license plate reader (LPR) network, a pilot program proposed to the City Council last May.

The Georgia Power program, named SiteView, has helped in numerous cases, Yandura said. Since the implementation of the program, the devices have scanned about 3.5 million license plates a month resulting in over 95,000 alerts a month to offenses such as carjackings, stolen vehicles, expired tags and suspended insurance.

There are 44 LPRs in the Georgia Power program that are located throughout the city. Additionally, the Historic Brookhaven neighborhood just purchased with funds they raised several LPRs for their neighborhood and the Brookhaven Forest subdivision also purchased their own cameras through the Georgia Power program.

In January 2017, the police department was contacted by Georgia Power regarding a newly formed division of its company that was created to provide law enforcement agencies the opportunity to increase the use of video cameras and license plate readers.

The program allows the city to lease video cameras and LPRs from Georgia Power, which in turn affixes the devices to its own poles. Under the agreement, Georgia Power is responsible for maintenance and upgrades of the system. The City Council approved a three-year lease agreement with Georgia Power in September. Cost is nearly $20,000 a month.

The police department has been using video cameras and LPRs since the department began operations in mid-2013. However, prior to the Georgia Power program, access to the equipment had been limited due to cost and location need, according to city officials.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.