Buckhead Leaders Exploring Police Patrol Program to Combat Street Racing and Other Crimes

GRA News, Legal + Regulatory, Atlanta Metro Area,

Source: Northside Neighbor

Is Buckhead Blue, the idea of adding a group of off-duty police officers to augment the Atlanta Police Department’s efforts by patrolling the community’s commercial district, necessary?

Yes, said some of the leaders of a committee formed to explore the proposal, which is modeled after the Midtown Blue program.

“It sure feels like it would help, so the (plan) is, let’s get into specifics and really understand what problems very specifically we’re trying to solve and then let’s think about what are the short-term things, the medium-term things and the long-term things,” said Jim Durrett, president of the Buckhead Coalition and executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District.

Durrett is one of about 10 members of a committee formed to explore the idea of Buckhead Blue. He and others interviewed by the Neighbor said it may only be needed in the short term.

The committee includes Durrett plus representatives of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, the Atlanta City Council, the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Police Foundation.

One of the issues Buckhead Blue would tackle is illegal street racing, a topic Fulton Chair Robb Pitts is familiar with. Pitts, who moved from Chastain Park to a condo in a Peachtree Road building in Buckhead about 10 months ago, was awakened by racers in the Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church parking lot at about 1:30 a.m. one night a month ago.

“It woke up everybody on my building,” he said. “People are at their wit’s end. The more we talked about it, the more we thought it may be a good idea. It’s not just Buckhead. Crime and street racing is happening all over (the county).”

The Buckhead Blue idea has picked up steam because of a combination of factors.

According to statistics provided by the police, as of Oct. 18, crime is down in three of eight categories this year compared to 2019 in Zone 2, which includes all of Buckhead, and overall crime is down 18%. Murders are even at six both years through Oct. 19, and aggravated assaults and auto thefts each are up by 15%.

But there may be a perception that crime has increased in Buckhead. Incidents of street racing, the violence and looting that occurred in late May and early June as an offshoot of peaceful protests regarding Black individuals dying at the hands of mostly white police officers and other crimes, such as car thefts, have been reported by individuals on social media and by the press. As a result, some residents feel it’s time for more of a police presence in the commercial corridors.

Also, the Fulton repeat offender problem in which suspects who were convicted of previous crimes have been released on low or no bond by judges has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily closed the courts and allowed some suspects to be released without bond.

The police department’s decrease in officers overall (from 1,822 Jan. 7 to 1,723 Oct. 20), well below its peak of about 2,000 during Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, is another factor since there may be less patrols in Buckhead today.

Mary Norwood, chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods and a committee member, said 97% of the neighborhoods have security patrols and/or have cameras, and about 75% have both, so Buckhead Blue would focus only on the commercial corridor of streets like Peachtree, Roswell and Piedmont roads.

Officer Anthony Grant, a police spokesman, said the department welcomes the Buckhead Blue idea.

“The proposal of a Midtown Blue type of program, the Buckhead area has a number of off-duty Atlanta PD officers that work for private neighborhood patrols,” he said. “We believe that a program that creates greater police presence in areas where officers are highly visible can positively impact crime and (the) community.”

According to its website, Midtown Blue has a set of more than 40 off-duty cops forming a group of nearly three officers per shift patrolling that area every hour of every day each year. District 8 Atlanta City Councilman J.P. Matzigkeit, a committee member, said its annual budget is $1.8 million.

The Buckhead CID, a self-taxing group of businesses, has a much smaller version of Midtown Blue, with a $50,000 vehicle it purchased stationed at the Zone 2 precinct and three off-duty officers paid a total of $100,000 a year to patrol the district in shifts Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Pitts said he’s had preliminary talks with Fulton Sheriff-elect Pat Labat about possibly hiring off-duty sheriff’s deputies for the Buckhead Blue program.

Street racing is one of the three concerns the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods has, with the other two being illegal truck traffic and noise violations. Norwood said Buckhead Blue could also be used to address the truck and noise issues.

Buckhead Blue would be completely privately funded, and a cost estimate has not been made yet, but Matzigkeit said it could exceed $1 million annually. The committee will meet privately Oct. 26 to continue to discuss its size and scope and other parameters.

But the public is invited to the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods’ next virtual meeting Nov. 12, which will include a discussion of Buckhead Blue, plus other public safety and transportation/traffic issues. Guest speakers include Maj. Andrew Senzer, the police’s Zone 2 commander, and Fulton District Attorney-elect Fani Willis.