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How Dangerous Is Old Fourth Ward?

Residents complain about lack of police presence, spotty notification and open drug dealing on Boulevard

A weekend murder and several shootings have people in the Old Fourth Ward on edge, wondering if their neighborhood is under a crime seige.

But at a packed meeting of neighborhood residents Thursday night in the Helene S. Mills Senior Multipurpose Facility, Atlanta Police Department officials said violent crime in Old Fourth Ward is not spiraling out of control.

The move to calm residents' fears comes after the early morning shooting death of a man Oct. 30 on Sampson Street off North Highland Avenue. The killer remains at large.

It also comes after another Old Fourth Ward resident had his car and home shot at.

But police sought to allay residents' fears.

Murders, in the two police beats that cover Old Fourth Ward, are at two, year-to-date, compared with five for the same period in 2010, said APD Maj. Christopher Leighty.

He is commander of APD's Zone 5, whose 198 officers patrol the area of the city that includes Old Fourth Ward, Downtown and Midtown.

Other crimes, such as robberies, are down by 0.58 percent in Zone 5 — 342 were reported between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15. For all of 2010 and 2009, there were 428 and 501, respectively, reported robberies in Zone 5.

Citywide, robberies jumped 5.7 percent to 1,779 reported cases between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15. For all of 2010, there were 2,132 reported robberies and 2,681 in 2009, police statistics show.

Still, "perception is reality," he said.

Thursday's meeting gave residents a chance to express their concerns not only regarding their fears about crime but other issues such as effectively communicating in a timely manner when incidents occur and police responsiveness.

They also sounded off about slumlords and their properties that attract crime and streets such as the stretch of Boulevard between Freedom Parkway and North Avenue, which seems to be corridor of open drug dealing.

"I see drug deals every day, I see all kinds of things going on," one Old Fourth Ward resident said, noting much of the activity is near the Bedford Pines Apartments, in Boulevard's 400 block.

A Bedford Pines representative in attendance at Thursday's meeting said the complex's management wants to be informed of problems. Marcel Benoit, the representative, said neighboring homeowners could call him — 404.347.4040 — or e-mail him directly.

But the homeowner said when she's called Bedford Pines management in the past, "it was like the person I was talking to was afraid for me to go out and look to get a license plate.

"It was like, 'don't let him see you don't let him know you're telling on him,'" she said. "Like I have to be afraid of my neighbors...and I'm supposed to be tiptoeing around my neighbors and be afraid to tell when somebody's doing something they don't have any business doing."

Another resident said she routinely sees open drug dealing on Boulevard — sometimes in open view of passing APD patrol cars.

Leighty said the department is focused on Boulevard and nearby streets.

"The reason why the drugs are being sold is because they are that profitable," Leighty said.

But he said residents shouldn't assume nothing is being done, because such operations take time.

"We are aware of those issues," he said. "It doesn't mean something's not being done about it."

553 Highland Ave. was a notorious haven for drug dealing, he said. And after repeated police action, it stopped.

He and other officials at the meeting pressed residents to call 911 whenever they see something that warrants police intervention or documentation.

The volume of 911 calls from a given neighborhood is a key factor in allocation of police personnel and resources, they said.

"If you do not call 911, there are no crimes in your community," said Dorthey Hurst, the public safety chairwoman for Neighborhood Planning Unit-M, which includes the Old Fourth Ward.

"If you do not call 911, when (APD Police) Chief Turner is allocating resources, those resources get pulled out of our community and they go to a community where people are calling 911."

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, whose District 2 includes Old Fourth Ward and Inman Park, added any and all complaints to the City Council about crime should be put in writing and e-mails.

"Individual e-mails speak volumes," Hall said.

He also said residents should come to City Hall and press their crime and public safety concerns at City Council meetings on a regular basis — not just at community forums when an incident occurs that spikes fears.

"We need you to show up."

Asked if he would be willing to put pressure on slumlords — some who live in neighboring Inman Park — about their problem rentals in Old Fourth Ward, Hall said he would.

"I still need it in writing," the councilman said. "And at some point, if we have to, we can go and stand outside their houses with the news (media) and say 'look, you're a slumlord and this isn't going to work.' "

Leighty took a "buck-stops-with-me" approach to complaints about police interaction with citizens, saying if residents feel they receive less-than-professional service from officers responding to calls, they should ask for a supervisor to come out to the scene. If they want, they can always follow up with him.

Residents also expressed frustration at not getting information about crimes as they're occurring.

Right now, neighbors will get info from different listservs in the neighborhood and e-mails, but sometimes they contain erroneous information.

Indeed, Leighty, noted that a recent shooting between police and a robbery suspect was reported as a murder on one of the local television news stations, when no murder occurred. And sometimes residents will hear of a crime that occurred and mistakenly believe that it happened in their neighborhood.

"When you say murders, just like when you say a shotgun was used in a robbery, that really raises people's awareness and fear level," Leighty said. "I would just ask that you contact through the neighborhood association or through me and we can verify those things and get the facts to you.”

Ultimately, he said open, continued dialogue between residents and police is key to keeping crime in check.

“The key is to continue to communicate, don’t give up, don’t get frustrated and hold us accountable.” Leighty said. “I cannot solve every problem you guys have in your neighborhood. You cannot solve every problem you have in your neighborhood. But, together, we can make one hell of an impact on the crime in your neighborhood. That's the bottom line.”

E Keathley November 09, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Chris, I have never heard of this program! I took a landowner who repeatedly uses his vacant lot as an illegal dump to court, and the maximum fine there is $1000.00. I have also never encountered APD officers involved with code enforcement, but would love to hear if they exist!
Péralte Paul November 09, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Chris & E: I haven't either. But I do know during the last legislative session, there was some attempt at upping the fees to make them more punitive for problem landlords. Personally, I think the city out to rent billboards on the Connector and post ads that say: "Meet John Smith of Roswell. He owns a house in Cabbagetown. He's a SLUMLORD." Nothing gets people acting fast more than the threat of embarrassment. Fines ought to, but they don't.
Chris Murphy November 09, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Code Eforcement absolutely has APD officers assigned to it; ask your Zone commander. No offense, but embarrassment doesn't usually work with those who are an embarrassment- they've already got a mess that is visible to anyone- why would a billboard ruin their day? Better for the City to hire better lawyers, and to put forth better judges.
Péralte Paul November 09, 2011 at 05:17 PM
I think it would in some cases. Some of these people are "pillars" in their own communities, serving on the boards of some groups, members of the Junior League, etc. They'd die from seeing their picture and name on a billboard that said they're slumlords. I know I would. For those who are a little lore hard-headed, the fines need to be high enough so as to really be punitive and costly. And they ought to use liens more often against slumlords' properties and bank accounts.
Steve Gower November 12, 2011 at 07:50 AM
Naming and shaming is not only about the particular offender in question, but can also work as a deterrent if the message reaches the right audience...

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