Atlanta crime: ‘We’re all seeing something different that’s a little more frightening’
By David Pendered
Open defecation, a homeless man chasing little girls near a pre-school in Southwest Atlanta, and potential Chicagoland thugs marking territory in Atlanta were among the concerns discussed Monday during the Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting.
This is in addition to reports of “really extreme behavior” outside a nightclub, potential youth gang activity and an Atlanta Police Department that is 423 officers short of its authorized strength of 2,033 officers, topics that also were discussed.
All this is in addition to discussion of the shooting Sunday of a security guard at Lenox Square. Two 15-year-olds have been charged with attempted murder and other counts in connection with the shooting that left the guard critically injured.
“I wish I had an answer,” Todd Coyt, an assistant chief with APD, told the committee at Atlanta City Hall at about the same time Deputy Chief Charles Hampton was meeting with reporters at Public Safety Headquarters to discuss the shooting at Lenox Square.
Coyt’s comment was in response to the question about the possibility that Chicago-area criminals are marking turf inside the city. Atlanta City Councilmember Cleta Winslow asked the question that goes to the heart of why the violence of the past year has been so extreme, in comparison to memories of the past:
- “We’re all concerned about the guns and the violence happening, not only in the City of Atlanta, but metro wide. I come from the Midwest, about 90 miles from Chicago. I’m very concerned there may be more violent people moving down here, and that’s why it’s been a step up in things I’ve seen, we’ve all seen, with respect for violence.
- “We’re all seeing something different that’s a little more frightening, where these people are trying to take over our city, and send a message they are taking over.”
Coyt’s full answer observed:
- “I wish I had an answer. But it’s happening nationwide. We are meeting around the country on a daily basis. Large or small, cities are experiencing an increase in violence and shootings and fights. At this point, we don’t have an answer.”
Atlanta Councilmember Michael Julian Bond asked about unruly behavior outside a club and what is being done to bring it under control. Bond then turned to questions about whether the suspects in the Lenox Mall shooting were charged as adults or juveniles, before shifting to ask about possible youth gang activities and the challenge of possible alternative interventions:
- “We don’t want kids funneled into the system, but we don’t want to them to turn around and get back out and commit another act. Alternatively, these kids, while awaiting trial, we don’t know if that’s too late for PAD or other interventions.”
The question about a Chicago connection to the violence was just one of several questions Winslow brought forward. Homelessness was a common factor, including the case of a man chasing a girl and open defecation in city parks:
- “A month and a half ago, a homeless man started chasing little girls around and broke a glass door trying to get into the pre-school. Just for the safety of people, children and everyone else, the homeless folks don’t need to be roaming around.”
Some homeless folks appear to have moved into some city parks, Winslow said. There are no bathrooms in these parks, prompting Winslow to observe:
- “Nobody minds the homeless using the parks during appropriate hours. It’s the inappropriate hours. … Cleopas R. Johnson Park – I had an event there and I smelled feces in the park. … We don’t want it to become health related. We have employees cutting grass and moving around in the park. They could bring something back they don’t know about. That’s not good.”
Coyt said APD’s HOPE Team is to intervene in such incidents and try to help the person causing issues who appears to be homeless. HOPE stands for Homeless Outreach Proactive Enforcement.
“They’ll attempt to get them services to get them off the street, and any assistance they need,” Coyt said. “We’ll see homeless not violate any laws, and that’s why our HOPE Team will try to get them service.”