Moderated by Rick Badie
The Atlanta Police Department has gained ground on its quest to have a force of 2,000 officers. That pleases the agency’s top cop, who writes that the magical number, when paired with contributing factors like “smarter policing,” ensures safer streets for all. Meanwhile, a 27-year veteran of the force suggests it’s not enough to simply fill the ranks. The city, he says, has to maintain the corps (now more than 1,900 strong) and nurture rookies who join the profession.
Commenting is open below following Ken Allen’s column.
By George Turner
AJC reporter Bill Torpy recently wrote that the quest by the Atlanta Police Department to reach 2,000 sworn officers is “like filling a bucket with holes in it.”
In keeping with that metaphor, it’s important to note that the bucket is larger, holds more water and quenches Atlantans’ thirst for public safety.
Simply put, it means that as the department grows, crime has continued to decrease to 40-year lows. I believe there is a direct correlation between the number of officers on the streets and our decreasing crime rate.
I am not ready to declare victory over crime. As long as our neighbors are robbed at gunpoint, cars are broken into, and homes and businesses are burglarized, work here is far from done.
However, it’s critical to put city crime in the proper context. I’ve been with the department for more than 31 years. It’s not difficult for me to remember “the bad old days.”
If we remain on the current pace, the city will experience fewer than 100 homicides for the fourth year in a row. The city routinely recorded 200-plus homicides a year in the 1970s and 1980s, including a high of 263 in 1973. As recently as 1993, the city experienced more than 200 homicides.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, Part I crime (major felonies including murder, rape, robbery, burglary, auto theft and aggravated assault) has dropped 10 percent since 1970. In 1969, there were 32,095 Part I crimes. In 1970, there were 40,092 such crimes, and in 2011, there were 36,241.
Overall violent crime is down to levels not seen since 1972. Last year, there were 6,097 violent crimes reported to the Atlanta Police Department. In 1972, 5,728 violent crimes were reported. That number increased to 7,521 in 1973.
Finally, Part I crimes this year are down 5 percent from this same time last year and 16 percent lower than they were three years ago at this same time. City crime continues to fall even as the nation remains in the grips of one of the most severe economic downturns since the Great Depression.
These great numbers are not due entirely to the growing number of Atlanta police officers. A number of factors have combined to make this happen: smarter policing; the emergence of video as a crime-fighting tool; and partnerships with the private sector through the Atlanta Police Foundation.
However, having more police officers on the streets increases our flexibility and ability to fight crime. With more officers, we are able to do more than just respond to crises. We are able to meet with business owners, residents and others to fight crime.
We are fortunate to have the support of Mayor Kasim Reed and the City Council. They have shown the political will to make public safety a top priority. Only when we work together will we reach our goal of making Atlanta the nation’s safest big city.
George N. Turner is Chief of Atlanta Police.
By Ken Allen
During the past couple of weeks, I have been asked several times to weigh in on the fact that the Atlanta Police Department will soon reach a record high number of police officers, 2,000 to be exact.
Local media have asked me a variety of questions regarding this topic centering on the effects the increase of police officers will have on the city, the department, and the officers. First of all, let me say that I believe reaching 2,000 officers for the city of Atlanta is a positive accomplishment. The city of Atlanta has expanded in population, vehicular traffic, and 911 calls for police services. Increasing the number of police officers is a necessary step to keep up with the current demands.
Secondly, increasing the Atlanta police force to 2,000 is not a last minute “rush” to fill vacant positions or meet any specific guidelines. It was a campaign commitment made by Mayor Kasim Reed, a commitment that the International Brotherhood of Police Officers supported, then and now. That being said, I also want to be clear that simply reaching the landmark 2,000 is not an answer to many of the issues facing the Atlanta Police Department, now and in the future.
Having 2,000 Atlanta police officers is notable, but maintaining 2,000 Atlanta police officers will be a significant challenge to the city. Nationally, America is experiencing well-documented economic shortfalls. Because of the economy and the loss of jobs, numerous people were forced to pursue employment outside their normal field of occupation. The law enforcement community is no exception. Keeping quality officers from returning to their profession of choice, once the economy rebounds, will be virtually impossible unless measures are taken to instill a sense of value within the officers.
Additionally, over the past decade, Atlanta police officers have made substantial sacrifices to help the city resurge. Time and time again they have been passed over for pay raises while having to pay increased medical costs and pension contributions. Many of these officers are frustrated and are looking for other law enforcement opportunities at both local and federal agencies. Again, economic recovery will spawn law enforcement job expansion and experienced officers will be highly-sought candidates.
Furthermore, the AJC recently ran an article which highlighted the number of Atlanta officers hired in the past 12 years (2,264) and exposed the number of officers who left or resigned (1,854) during the same 12-year period. Clearly this exemplifies the difficulties faced by the Atlanta Police Department in retaining officers. APD’s attrition rate soared above the national average during the past decade and, despite the recent reduction in officers resigning from the department, the levels of frustration and dissatisfaction remain.
Both veteran and rookie members of the IBPO have strongly verbalized that one common denominator will influence their decision to remain with the Atlanta Police Department or seek other employment opportunities in the future: A commitment to annual pay increases. The time has come to reinvest in the current officers and make it a priority to treat them like the valuable assets they are.
Ken Allen is President of the Atlanta Police Department’s International Brotherhood of Police Officers.