Legal tactics against Atlanta’s ‘water boys’ could include banishment, targeting parents
By John Ruch
Police and prosecutors are discussing new crackdown tactics on Atlanta’s so-called “water boys,” including banishment and targeting of parents and guardians.
The discussions were described by Atlanta Police Department (APD) Maj. Andrew Senzer, commander of Buckhead’s Zone 2 precinct, at a March 1 meeting of Neighborhood Planning Unit B. He focused on Buckhead, but the policies and tactics presumably would apply citywide. APD and the Fulton County District Attorney’s office did not respond to comment requests.
The water boys are young people who illegally sell bottled water on street corners. The practice has been highly controversial since a boom in 2020. City officials generally describe the water-sellers as misdirected entrepreneurs whose illicit activity sometimes leads to violent turf battles and aggressive sales tactics.
Former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took a tolerant and measured approach with an advisory council that last year recommended a mix of law enforcement and entrepreneurship programs. Zone 2 officers largely ignored the tolerance policy, instead cracking down on water-sellers after incidents where firearms were brandished.
Last year is also when the Buckhead cityhood movement took off, fueled by crime fears. The pro-cityhood Buckhead City Committee seized on the water-sellers topic with the announcement of an unsubstantiated quarter-million-dollar fundraising campaign for a youth mentoring nonprofit.
Senzer said at the NPU meeting that about 25 water-sellers are currently active in Buckhead’s hot spot around Lenox Square and said officers have made 15 arrests related to their activity so far this year. He said one Zone 2 officer has “developed a rapport with these individuals” and created a database of them so she “knows everyone who’s out there.”
He said APD is talking with the District Attorney’s Office and Georgia juvenile justice system officials about post-arrest and investigative tactics. Part of that is ensuring that prosecutors know a citation for “pedestrian in the roadway” related to water-selling is more than just a minor jaywalking case.
But, Senzer added, the DA’s office “has agreed to look at banishment for offenders,” possibly from Buckhead’s entire hot spot in the area roughly bounded by Ga. 400 and Lenox and Piedmont roads.
Also on the table, he said, is seizing cell phones of arrestees to search them for contacts because “we know the parents and guardians are complicit to some extent” and being able to charge them as well “might be a game-changer for us.”
At the same NPU meeting, Senzer also discussed Buckhead’s crime rate and the citywide plague of guns stolen from vehicles.