Safety Takes All of Us
By Marcus Neville, Director of Public Safety and Operations, Midtown Alliance
When the Midtown Improvement District was formed 21 years ago, the first imperative was for people to feel safe. At the time, Midtown was pretty disinvested, vice and prostitution were active and not a lot of positive things were happening after dark. We stood up our “Midtown Blue” supplemental public safety program, with a team made up of off-duty Atlanta Police Department officers and civilian personnel and got to work. The first order of business was forging strong partnerships with APD, other public safety partners and property owners. Today’s Midtown is a vastly different place, but the imperative of ensuring a safe and welcoming district has never been stronger, and the definition of “safe” is more expansive than ever.
Today safety is baked into every aspect of the Midtown Alliance’s work. Aside from the work of Midtown Blue, our operations and maintenance crews regularly conduct audits of street light outages to report them to the City. Our landscaping work includes cutting back vegetation to ensure good sight lines and visibility. The Midtown Development Review Committee evaluates proposed building designs with an eye toward safety where the façade of the building meets the sidewalk. Our capital improvements team works with the City of Atlanta and Georgia DOT to enhance Midtown’s transportation network and create safe transportation options that work for people on foot, on bikes and scooters, and in cars. Our member engagement staff work to connect neighbors and advance dialog between stakeholders on public safety and other issues.
Our Midtown Blue supplemental public safety program one of the most comprehensive programs in the Southeast. Today we patrol 750 hours a week using both uniformed public safety officers and off-duty APD and we have more than 150 video surveillance cameras watching the public right of way. But the sizable investment in personnel, equipment and technology only tells part of the story.
Long-term, rock-solid relationships with agency and community partners are what makes Midtown a safe place. Strong partnerships with the Atlanta Police Department, Georgia Tech Police Department and MARTA Police Department, individual building management and security personnel, businesses and residential HOAs form the bedrock of our program. It’s also about staying in daily contact with ground floor businesses and asking them what they need. Given the prevalence of car break-ins in any urban environment, we also focus on prevention — conducting lighting and access audits of Midtown’s 70K parking spots in surface lots and decks, and the Clean Car Campaign and educational flyers to keep valuables in cars out of plain sight.
Another important dimension of our work is to address quality of life issues that are common in urban areas, including finding our role in the national fight to end homelessness. In the City of Atlanta, the work to address this issue is spread across many organizations that make up what is known as the Continuum of Care: beyond housing and shelter, many organizations are involved in mental health and substance abuse counseling, legal aid, and support from the faith community. We work with these organizations to bolster our local outreach efforts and you can read more about this work here. Building trust with individuals experiencing homelessness takes time – on average it takes 15 or more encounters before a person will agree to accept services and shelter – but with help from outreach partners on the ground in Midtown, the results are beginning to materialize here.
Proactive communication with property owners, residents, businesses, workers and visitors is also essential. Our work in public safety is a complex topic that can never be fully answered in a tweet or a Nextdoor thread. Anytime a string of violent or potentially violent incidents happen, it’s natural to ask, “what is the state of public safety in Midtown?”
In Midtown, by far the most common type of crime we experience is nonviolent property crime. Most years, 92 to 95 percent of all crimes committed in our district are property crimes, and most of these are car break-ins. The Midtown Improvement District ended 2020 with overall crime up 2% compared to 2019, but violent crime down 6%.
What is new in recent months is the increase of property crimes involving stolen autos. These incidents have spiked since the latter half of last year, but the good news is that they are extremely preventable. In the first ten weeks of 2021, 82 incidents involved stolen vehicles — most of which were preventable. Incredibly, 85% of the vehicles stolen in Midtown during this timeframe involved the vehicle left running and illegally parked as the driver ran into a store or restaurant, or keys were left in the vehicle. To this end, our team has instituted curb enforcement details on Peachtree Street to raise awareness and get motorists into compliance. Over the past few months, Midtown Blue have issued 1,200 citations and given 2,400 warnings for parking or stopping illegally. The net effect of these efforts? Fewer vehicle thefts, better traffic flow, safer conditions for people riding bikes and e-scooters in the curb lane, and improved response times for Atlanta Fire Department.
Violent crime in Midtown is rare, and “stranger-on-stranger” crime is very rare. For example, in all eight of the aggravated assault incidents so far this year, either the perpetrator and victim knew each other such as in a domestic situation, or the incident involved individuals who get in a fight, and it escalated with weapons Many of those revolved around a handful of late night club-related incidents.
In a typical (non-COVID) year, our district sees an average of 100,000 residents, workers and visitors each day, and less than two pedestrian robberies each month, mostly late at night. In 2020 we had 17 pedestrian robberies for the entire year.
Maintaining an environment where people feel safe takes all of us. There’s no question it’s harder to achieve when APD’s roster is down by nearly 400 officers, and jails and courts have not been operating normally due to COVID. But our team and the relationships we foster within the Midtown community have been a constant during a challenging year. The common thread that runs through everything when it comes to maintaining a safe place is collaboration.