Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Nothing disrupts our quality of life on a personal level more than problems in our neighborhoods — noise pollution, junk collection, rude residents. In a large city, the frustrations are magnified and can become explosive, especially when police are not present. Here is a story from a teacher coping with his urban landscape, and the Atlanta Police Department’s response.
Commenting is open below George N. Turner’s column.
By Anthony Elder
I am growing tired of living in the city of Atlanta. My decision to move to the Vine City neighborhood six years ago was motivated by the fact that I work in Coweta County and my wife works in Alpharetta, so downtown was a viable location considering our respective commutes.
From a logistical standpoint, Vine City is an attractive place to live. It is less than 10 minutes from the interstate, directly across the street from the Georgia World Congress Center. I can walk to various other attractions, including the Georgia Aquarium. A nearby MARTA station makes public transportation an option for my wife to travel back and forth to work.
Vine City is also an affordable in-town neighborhood for a working-class family. Unfortunately, the cons of living here outweigh the pros.
The police do a horrible job of enforcing the laws that can improve the quality of life in residential areas. Loitering, trespassing and noise violations are prevalent. One night, my wife and I walked our pets and noticed a vagrant trespassing in property across the street. I called the police, but they never showed up. The vagrant drank booze, talked and made commotion all night. Compound episodes like this with the fact that empty homes are allowed to rot and residents are allowed to pile junk without code enforcement, and you end up with a depressing residential area.
I am a school teacher. I go to bed every night at 10 p.m. I should get about eight hours of sleep a night, but seldom does that happen. My neighbors are allowed to play music at excessive volumes all night. Dogs bark all night. I have to wear ear plugs to fall asleep and keep them in to stay asleep.
I have talked to my neighbors about respecting other residents, and I have talked to the police captain about patrolling the area more effectively; nothing has worked. There are ordinances that specifically apply to noise pollution, but the police do not effectively respond to calls pertaining to disorderly conduct.
As a result, contentious and intimidating environments are created in transitional neighborhoods between working-class people and those who don’t have an appreciation for orderly conduct.
I chose to move to the city. I understand there are certain things that come with living in the city, such as vagrants and low-income citizens who may not value the same things as I do. But it is very disheartening to feel like the police and code enforcement officers ignore the residents yet work for the city’s business interest with earnest diligence.
Park Atlanta enforces parking violations. Vagrants are removed from the front of businesses. Police help people cross Northside Drive during events at the World Congress Center and Georgia Dome. I wonder, what would happen if the junk cars that are allowed to sit and rot in Vine City were in front of the Capitol? Surely, they would be removed before lunch. There is only so much that I can do as a resident. If Atlanta wants to continue to attract upwardly mobile people to the city, the city needs to do more to improve the quality of life for its residents.
Anthony elder is a science teacher who lives in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood.
By George N. Turner
Any time I hear legitimate concerns expressed about public safety in the city of Atlanta, I take it to heart.
I do so not only in my role as chief of police for the city, but also as a father, grandfather and husband. I care deeply for the safety of the family I’ve cared for and nurtured, and the property I’ve earned through years of hard work.
We all expect the police to keep us safe, reduce crime and improve our quality of life. So much so that, “to reduce crime and improve the quality of life in partnership with our communities” is our mission statement here at the Atlanta Police Department.
So, the concerns and expectations expressed by Mr. Elder and others who feel similarly are not unreasonable and should not be easily dismissed.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t take a moment to dispel any notion that the Atlanta Police Department has given up on Vine City – or any other neighborhood or community in this great city.
On the contrary: We are experiencing significant reductions citywide in major crimes to levels we haven’t seen since 1969. We have recent successes, too. Since Mayor Kasim Reed took office, we have experienced a 16 percent decrease in major crimes in the city. Mayor Reed, the Atlanta City Council and the Atlanta Police Foundation should be commended for their support in making public safety a priority.
In 2012, we experienced 85 homicides in the city. One is too many. However, that was the second-lowest tally of homicides in Atlanta since 1962, when we had 82.
Do these numbers mean we rest on our laurels, content with a downward crime trend? Absolutely not. The Atlanta Police Department continues to invest in technology, training, equipment, leadership development, recruitment and retention, and other strategic initiatives aimed at making us a world-class force, and Atlanta, the safest big city in the nation.
I can also tell you that specific attention is paid to Vine City by the Zone 1 commander, Maj. Timothy Quiller, and his supervisors and officers. Vine City lies in Beat 102. Through Dec. 21 of 2012, our officers made 358 arrests on that beat alone. Of those arrests, 132 of them were related to “quality of life” issues.
In that time period on Beat 102, officers also conducted 2,659 directed patrols, 1,641 traffic stops, 288 vacant property checks and 160 traffic safety checkpoints. These numbers show that our officers are visible, and working, in Vine City.
George N. Turner is Atlanta police chief.