Published on June 8th, 2016 |0
APD command tells residents it’s covering Zone 2; residents express doubts
The message from the audience to the APD representatives—primarily Zone 2 Commander Major Van Hobbs and Deputy Police Chief Joseph Spillane—was “we want to see more officers and police cars in our neighborhoods to deter crime, including armed robberies and break-ins.”
Dist. 9 Atlanta City Councilwoman Felicia Moore hosted the evening meeting at Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church off Moores Mill Road in north Buckhead to give residents the opportunity to vent the same frustrations they have been sharing with her office.
Residents raised questions ranging from how many officers patrol Zone 2, which includes Buckhead, to how many officers are on the police force itself, with several saying they are concerned about the police shortage in Atlanta.
Deputy Chief Spillane explained that the department has an authorized personnel staffing of 2,034, but it also presently has a shortage of 120, thus the present department staff level is 1,914. There are six police zones in the city and 78 total beats within those six zones.
Zone 2, which is the largest geographic zone in the city at 40 square miles, has approximately 120 officers, but that includes those on administrative duties and crime scene investigators, Major Hobbs told the group. There are 13 beats in Zone 2, the largest of which are beats 201 and 202 in Buckhead. Those two beats are also two of the largest in the city, according to Spillane.
Those who have attended other meetings regarding the police force have been told one of the problems in Buckhead is that residents often report crime situations to their neighborhood security
patrol and not to 911.
The message has always been that the staffing of the zones is determined by the number of 911 calls received in a year. But Spillane told the audience June 2 he allocates 100 patrol officers to each of the six zones, whether the zone is 40 square miles in size or 6 square miles.
Spillane confirmed to BuckheadView at the meeting that there are only about 746 beat officers throughout the entire city, with those officers patrolling in beat cars and responding to 911 calls. Each zone also has two sectors and each sector has a floating car for additional call response support.
Residents complained about the beat cars being pulled from Buckhead and north Atlanta beats on a rather frequent basis. Spillane and Hobbs both explained that the pulling of beat cars is often due to an officer being ill or having a personal crisis and cannot report to work.
Hobbs explained that the staff also is required to attend training sessions from time to time and in those cases he pulls in the traffic control team to fill those voids on the beats. Spillane added that he keeps up to date on these situations and can pull resources from other parts of the city to fill in.
Spillane said the department just graduated 38 from training school and would soon be getting back about 78 police officers to put on beats because Atlanta Public Schools is creating its own police force, but will still be below its authorized strength.
Truth is, the department has never been at full authorized strength, due largely to attrition through retirements and officers leaving to take higher paying jobs with other departments. Many APD
officers are recruited by neighboring cities, including Dunwoody and Brookhaven, Spillane said.
“I had a lieutenant who was making $58,000 a year in Atlanta and he went to Brookhaven where he is making $79,000. Younger people are looking for immediate money and don’t care about better pensions or benefits,” Spillane said.
Moore and other council members and Mayor Kasim Reed are looking at pay differences compared to surrounding cities, Spillane said. “We have some assurances they will look at pay disparities,” he said. “We do the best we can with the resources we have.”
One fact not discussed during the meeting is that the beat officers are the one group within the department who have not had a pay raise in years, according to Moore. Aside from pay, today’s culture is not “pro-police,” Spillane said, which makes it more difficult to recruit new officers.
Hobbs said he was fortunate in Zone 2 to not have many officers transfer to other departments but rather to different specialized units within the APD.
Those explanations did not quell the angst of several of the residents attending the meeting.
“We’re very frustrated, especially because of car break-ins and armed robberies,” said Kevin Price of Ridgewood Heights.
On May 9, for example, a man was exercising in the park off Ridgeway Avenue when two men grabbed his backpack containing a MacBook Pro, iPhone and recording equipment. The two men ran
with the bag and when the jogger chased them, one of the men pulled a gun on him and said, “I will shoot you,” after which they escaped in a black car.
On May 21, a man jogging on Ridgewood Road was robbed at gunpoint by a juvenile who fled in a black sedan. Robberies are also taking precedence over car break-ins, he said, due in part to the police shortage.
Hobbs said one way police try to deter crime is through visibility — by pulling someone over to issue a citation or a ticket, the officer flashes blue lights and lets people know police are in the area. He personally pulls over drivers for warnings flashing the lights on his unmarked car.
One woman spoke up at the end of the meeting with possibly some of the best advice for the APD command staff: Too often the officers need to be better allocated (sending four cars to investigate an armed robbery is too many) and, if there are police positions that remain unfilled, use that money to buy cameras and license plate readers to help catch the criminals.