Microsoft begins seeking intelligence, input on public safety concerns for Westside campus planning
By John Ruch
A Microsoft security consultant this week began gathering intelligence and seeking input on metro Atlanta public safety concerns as the company plans its massive new Westside campus.
Ricky Davis, CEO of North Carolina-based RICE Security & Consulting, made a first public appearance at a Jan. 4 meeting of Buckhead’s Neighborhood Planning Unit A, where he identified himself as a “senior risk mitigation and threat consultant” gathering information on community concerns “on behalf of Microsoft future efforts.”
Davis clarified in a phone interview afterward that he is working for Microsoft on crime concerns that could affect its planned campus between Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway and the new Westside Park. He said the effort — which is just beginning — is part of the tech giant’s promise to design the campus in response to community needs and concerns.
Davis likened the Microsoft campus to Savannah College of Art and Design’s expansion into that city’s “high-crime areas.”
“So how do we go in and create better security in and around the buildings? How do we create relationships with partners who already have a good standing in the community…?” Davis said, adding Microsoft seeks ways to collaborate “to make sure the people who have lived there for a long, long time remain safe.”
Microsoft did not directly respond to questions about Davis’s work and its purpose. Instead, the company provided a two-sentence written statement about broad aspirational goals with undefined terms. “We are taking a listen-first, community-driven approach by asking how Microsoft can support the local community and addressing their needs first to generate sustainable, positive impact, aligned with our core values,” the company said in part.
Microsoft is in the midst of a major expansion in the metro area, including a large new office complex in Midtown and data centers announced for East Point, Palmetto and Douglas County. Last year, Microsoft announced the plan for the 90-acre Westside campus — currently known as Quarry Yards and Quarry Hills — and immediately triggered public and political outcry about a possible wave of gentrification and displacement in the areas of Bankhead and Grove Park. In response, Microsoft made an overall pledge to get community input before creating a campus design as well as promises to build affordable housing and support community organizations. It has held at least one community engagement meeting on those topics.
Davis’s security consulting appears to be in that same vein. He said Microsoft is gathering intelligence on safety and security issues up to 10 miles away from the Westside campus. “We can’t just focus on the bullseye,” he said. That will include attending NPU meetings, doing ride-alongs and meetings with Atlanta Police Department officers and commanders, and talking with the Atlanta Police Foundation.
The general public “absolutely” can provide input as well, Davis said, by emailing him at email@example.com. He emphasized that input should focus on “the safety and security, the risk mitigation, what’s working now and what they would like to see better.”
Microsoft also pointed to community feedback contacts available on a blog about its metro expansion, though that says nothing specifically about public safety at the Westside campus.
“That is my role, is to get some usable feedback to where we need to make some decisions, especially based on something historical or systemic that we need to be acknowledging and make sure we meet with the people who are responsible,” he said.
Davis said he will not be talking with elected officials, saying that is the work of other consultants. He said he has performed similar consulting for Microsoft in the past, but cannot discuss it due to non-disclosure agreements.
Davis sometimes struggled to define what exact type of information he is seeking and the terms he was using. For example, he said Microsoft wants to make sure the “community has a voice,” but when asked how that would work, added, “When I say voices, it’s not something really vocal per se. It’s intelligence-gathering.” He also referred to possible “co-use” of the campus but said he was “not privy” to details of that term.
Davis said part of the lack of detail is that Microsoft is in the very early planning stages, is still learning about metro Atlanta, and is new to a community input process. Asked whether part of the intent is to head off anti-Microsoft political protests, he said no and elaborated on the intent.
“No, this is nothing negative… It’s a very different approach for us to understand that, for that area of Atlanta, and especially considering economic development, what are some of the feedback, I guess, that we’re looking for?” Davis said. “This is a very new approach for us as part of this. So our goal is to get this as close to right as possible.”
He said the goal “to help us make some good decisions” and “not just [say], ‘We’ll put this [campus] down in this area and they’ll love it.’ No, no, no.”
Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect date for the Neighborhood Planning Unit meeting and an incorrect name for the Grove Park neighborhood.