Violent crime has spiked in cities across the country since the pandemic.

Unfortunately, our communities are no exception. The number of homicides in the city of Atlanta is up more than 50% so far this year, compared to the same time period in 2019, according to the Atlanta Police Department.

Public safety leaders are trying new tactics, but many have said that law enforcement can’t solve the problem alone. “It takes all of us to be partners in public safety,” Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said in June.

DeKalb County Sheriff Melody Maddox echoed his comments in a July radio interview. “We need your support,” she said. “We cannot do this alone. This is something that takes the community.”

But how can residents really help?

I wanted to know. So, I spoke with a team of Atlanta crime prevention officers, who work as liaisons between the police and the community, helping build rapport and offering tips and tools to keep people safe.

“If we all don’t come together … it’s never going to happen and it’s never going to last,” said Marguerita McMurray, a senior inspector with APD’s Crime Prevention Unit. “Crime is just out there right now, and it takes every individual … in order for us to combat crime as a team.”

Here are some tips from our conversation:

  1. Start or join a local patrol – Participation in Neighborhood Watch programs fell off during the pandemic, said Senior Inspector Sabrina Thomas. She encourages people to get to know their neighbors and look out for one another. “We wish more people would be involved,” she said. “The police department needs some eyes and ears.”

    There are also Business Watch programs for property owners, and some neighborhoods organize parent patrols to monitor kids at bus stops. Atlanta, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody offer information and training on watch programs. And there are volunteer policing groups, such as the Citizens on Patrol programs in Brookhaven, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. Or get an up-close study of the police department by joining a Citizens Police Academy.
  1. Keep an eye out – If you see something, say something. Call 911 if you witness a crime. Call 311 to report code enforcement issues such as abandoned vehicles, dilapidated properties or overgrown brush, where criminals could potentially hide. “If you don’t report it, we feel like you support it,” McMurray said.
  2. Be aware – While some people may feel more of a sense of “normalcy” this summer, it’s not time to drop your guard, said Inspector Jammie Tillman. Park your car in well-lit areas. If you are walking around, take a friend and stick to familiar areas. Walk in areas with blue-light police cameras, which capture video footage and read license plates. Use technology at your home, such as doorbell cameras. “I recommend residents take control of their own safety,” Tillman said. “Policing is a reactive tool. The community can be proactive.”
  3. Keep a clean car – There’s an uptick of vehicle break-ins since the pandemic, Tillman said. Remove all valuable items from your car. Don’t leave guns in your car, or lock them up in a secure gun box. “Before you get to your destination, secure your items,” Tillman said, as potential thieves could be watching at parking locations to see if you put valuable items in the trunk, for example.
  4. Inspect your home – Several cities including Atlanta and Sandy Springs offer free home security inspections. “You can deter a crime from someone breaking in by simply moving your furniture,” Thomas said.
  5. Support youth – In Atlanta, it’s estimated that 10% of violent crimes are committed by youth under 16 years old. Often, kids turn to crime who don’t have other positive influences in their lives. Get involved in programs that help inspire the next generation, such as the Atlanta Police Athletic League. “When you give kids an outlet … and when you encourage them to see they have a purpose in their own community, it not only reduces crime, but it fosters good behaviors that will impact these youth for the rest of their lives,” Tillman said.
  6. Be kind –  APD recently said that one solution to violent crime is “ensuring we, and our children, know how to properly handle conflict and anger.” If you get into an argument, be the one that walks away, Tillman said. “Don’t take matters into your own hands.”

I hope these tips are helpful. Let’s do our part for public safety.

Amy Wenk

Amy Wenk was editor of Reporter Newspapers in 2021-22.