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Tackling Crime One Broken Window at a Time

Atlanta Police Department's Community Liaison Unit takes on quality of life issues

In addressing crime, sometimes focusing on the little things can have some meaningful impact on more serious issues.

With that philosophy, the Atlanta Police Department is putting more officers in its community policing division.

The officers — who are being hired through an $11.2 million federal grant — are in the Community Liaison Unit of APD's Community Oriented Policing Section, or COPS.

The grant pays for the officers for three years and the city is required to keep those officers on staff for at least one additional year. So far, APD has hired 41 officers with the grant funds.

The officers, who will total 50 when at full staff, will focus on quality of life issues, such as noise, garbage and panhandling, APD Chief George Turner said Saturday during a "meet and greet" with the public at Woodruff Park.

They won't address 911 calls; they'll be deployed to all parts of the city going to neighborhood association get-togethers, meeting with residents and business owners and address their quality of life concerns.

"It's about proactively building on those relationships," Turner said. "The goal is reducing crime."

In Little Five Points for example, graffiti on businesses and illegal dumping of trash is an issue. In other neighborhoods, it's speeders and still in others, it's noise.

Having a group of officers focused on those quality of life issues will proactively stem little problems from growing into larger issues, Turner said. It's akin to the "broken window" theory, which call for addressing small community issues before they spiral into more serious problems, he said.

That also frees up other officers to focus on the more serious crimes and complaints that come in via 911.

He also is looking at that unit to improve APD's overall image and strengthen community relations.

The department has gotten its share of black marks in recent years, most notably, it's handling of a drug investigation that led to the 2006 shooting death of an innocent, 92-year-old woman in her home and a 2009 raid on a gay bar.

The COPS unit reports to Deputy Chief E. Renee Propes, who had been commander of Zone 6, which includes the East Atlanta Village, Kirkwood and Poncey-Highland neighborhoods.

As a zone commander, "routinely, there were issues I had identified or community members identified to me that we just really didn't have the time to deal with — give it as much time as we needed to," Propes said.

"These officers, that's what they're going to be able to do, is really help communities strategize to find solutions to some of these long-term problems and do followup with that."

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