Iconium Hosts Town Hall Meeting on Violent Crime
(APN) ATLANTA — About 200 residents of southeast Atlanta gathered at the First Iconium Baptist Church Tuesday night, March 03, 2009, to share their concerns about crime with city leaders as well as police and fire representatives.
“Most of our crimes are attributed to property crimes,” Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington said.
Pennington said property crime, which includes auto theft, break-ins, robberies, and burglaries, is up despite the fact, he said, overall crime is down 6 percent.
“When crime is up, I’ll tell you, it’s up,” Pennington said. “When crime is down, I’ll tell you, it’s down.”
A recent wave of high profile burglaries, robberies, thefts, murders, and other crimes have led citizens to band together to form groups like Atlantans Together against Crime (ATAC) and Safe Atlanta for Everyone (SAFE).
These groups are working to create networks across Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods so citizens can share information about suspicious behavior and recent crimes.
ATAC has 8,000 members on its Facebook page and has already held two rallies around Atlanta, with plans for more, to bring attention to the issue.
Many citizens feel City officials are not doing enough to protect them from crime, and some expressed fear that they may be the next victims.
“We look at each and every offense,” Pennington said. “We don’t take anything lightly.”
To combat the rising burglaries, Pennington said his department has dispatched a task force to Zone 6 and Zone 4 to deal with the issue.
“[Crime] hasn’t gone down enough,” he said. “We have made some progress but we still have some work to do.”
Officials said they are doing the best they can with limited resources.
“The furloughs we are experiencing today translates into a 10 percent reduction in manpower on the streets,” Pennington said.
While Atlanta has increased the number of officers on the street from 1,433 in 2002 to over 1,700 today, the city needs at least 2,000, he said. Attracting new officers and retaining their services longer than three years is a big hurdle.
“We don’t have a problem hiring officers; we have a problem keeping them,” Pennington said.
A failing economy has forced Atlanta to make repeated cuts to make up for budget shortfalls, not only in the police department but also in fire rescue and the 911 center, closing City Hall on Fridays, and other service cuts.
“The Mayor made that decision,” City Council President Lisa Borders said of the public safety cuts. “There are choices that have to be made [but] we shouldn’t cut police and fire.”
Atlanta Fire Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran noted his department has a $71 million budget for fiscal year 2009, down from $86 million in fiscal year 2008.
“We have met the challenge of providing the best available service while utilizing different strategies,” Cochran said. These strategies include furloughing employees as well as using blackouts and brownouts.
“We want to assure you we are doing the very best with what we have left,” Cochran said. “We are still dispatching the same number of trucks we have in the past.”
This includes three engines, three trucks, and two battalion chiefs to every emergency, Cochran noted.
Miles Butler, director of the 911 Call Center, said despite cuts in his department, dispatchers “do everything they can under adverse conditions.”
“I understand your frustration,” Butler said. “Our people are doing everything they possibly can.”
To alleviate the funding problem, Borders said the City Council is thinking about the idea of a dedicated revenue stream for public safety like an enterprise fund. The City currently has such a fund for sewers and the airport.
Cochran and Pennington said it would take millions of dollars to restore services they have had to cut in their departments.
Borders also floated the idea of creating blue alerts and red alerts that would notify citizens to be on the look out for an emergency situation, the same way an amber alert notifies Georgians when a child has been abducted.
“This is just the beginning of Atlantans coming together so we can solve problems like we always do,” Borders said. “Each of us can be an extra pair of eyes and ears. When you see something, report it.”
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