The new commander of Buckhead’s Zone 2 Atlanta Police Department precinct got a welcome at a Dec. 5 community meeting, where he said he’ll target crime spots with a “zero tolerance” approach.

“Y’all are quickly becoming my favorite zone with all the welcome and support,” said Maj. Andrew Senzer to a group of about 40 residents gathered at the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.

Maj. Andrew Senzer, the new commander of Buckhead’s Zone 2 police precinct, speaks to community members at a Dec. 5 meeting at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. (John Ruch)

Senzer took command of the precinct in November following the retirement of former commander Maj. Barry Shaw. The welcome meeting was organized by City Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit and Dustin Hillis.

“I was actually honored because I know how challenging Zone 2 can be,” Senzer said of taking the command. Asked by an audience member what sort of challenges are involved, he said, “Well, traffic is one. It’s hard to get from point A to point B quickly.”

Originally from Long Island in New York State, Senzer came to Atlanta in 1995. He said he and current Police Chief Erika Shields were in the police academy together. He previously served on the department’s Red Dog unit, a controversial anti-drug squad that was disbanded in 2011 following a raid on the Atlanta Eagle bar and allegations of illegal strip searches, which did not involve Senzer. He then served on the SWAT team for eight years.

Senzer said he liked the “camaraderie” and “culture” of the SWAT team, with a focus on team communications rather than various watches and units operating in “silos.”

“I like to bring that everywhere I go,” he said.

That service also gave him some memories of some of Buckhead’s most notorious violent crimes. He referenced the 1999 mass murder spree committed by Mark Barton, and said that John “Rick” Sowa, an officer murdered by a domestic violence suspect in 1997, was a “a good friend of mine.”

“I like to be very proactive,” he said of his policing style. “I hated to be bored when I was a [patrol] cop.”

Speaking after the meeting, he elaborated on the strategy he will bring to Zone 2. He said he meets with beat officers to hear in detail about “hotspots” of crime, then works with watch commanders on a “master zero-tolerance list” of places that will get extra patrol attention between 911 calls. He calls it “just basic policing. I’m not reinventing the wheel.”

“Zero tolerance,” he said, means strict attention on such activities as loitering outside stores and “heavy traffic enforcement,” on the principle that most criminals live elsewhere and are roaming around.

Senzer speaks with audience members after the Dec. 5 community meeting. (John Ruch)

Questions from the audience addressed some common issues, including security cameras, crime prevention and the level of beat patrols.

Tom Watson of the Peachtree Heights West Civic Association expressed concern that, while crime is relatively low in his neighborhood, patrol cars are seen “less than Santa Claus.”

“That’s an easy fix,” said Senzer, as patrols can be directed to drive by there more frequently. Each of the three “watches” or shifts has 11 beats, and the precinct can “pretty much” fill every patrol car with current staffing levels, Senzer said.

Senzer promoted security cameras as a way to fight the car break-ins and thefts that make up the majority of Zone 2’s crime, because they are committed by “transient criminals, for the most part.”

“Just speaking as a cop, when we’re able to review video and look at LPR – license plate reader – hits, it becomes a game-changer for us,” he said. Asked by Gordon Certain of the North Buckhead Civic Association about some of his board member’s privacy concerns on cameras, Senzer said, “If you’re a responsible citizen doing the right thing, you have nothing to worry about.”

Another solution to car-related crime, police frequently say, is on the prevention side. Senzer gave some numbers reflecting that issue.

“Last week, we had 11 vehicles stolen,” he said. “Six of those had keys in the vehicle, two of which were left running.” Another two were stolen from valet parking. “In a sense, we are giving some cars away,” he said.