By John Schaffner

There is a 29 percent increase in crime in Buckhead’s Zone 2 this year with 489 more crimes committed than for the same period last year. However, 403 of those crime cases have been thefts from automobiles, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington told the Buckhead Business Association on May 19.

Pennington said this year’s increase in crime follows three years of significant decreases in Zone 2. He said Zone 2 has done a great job in keeping crime in check relative to other zones in the city. He said he is committed to having more foot patrols in Buckhead and he brought back the popular mounted patrol unit.

Of the crimes in Buckhead, Pennington said Lenox Mall contributed 8 percent, Phipps Plaza 3 percent and the Wal-Mart shopping center at Howell Mill Road and I-75 contributed 5 percent.

In addition to stealing computers, GPS units and other electronics from automobiles, Pennington said some of the major areas of crime have involved theft of jeans and sunglasses from boutique shops, thefts all types of copper, platinum from the catalytic converters on vehicles and even manhole covers.

Pennington also said identity theft and mortgage fraud are on the increase in the city, along with computer crimes.

The Atlanta police chief associated much of the rise in crimes to the downturn in the economy.

Pennington, who spoke early at the BBA’s weekly breakfast meeting so that he could get to city hall for meetings on the 2008-2009 city budget, said the police department is not scheduled to lose any sworn officers in the new budget that goes into effect July 1. The only cuts were in civilian staff. He said the police force today is at 1780 officers. He wants to take it to 2,000.

He also pointed out that officers in most cases have to work second jobs in order to make enough money to support their families. They are allowed to work up to 24 hours a week on a second job.

He spoke of the Police Foundation, an idea he brought with him to Atlanta from New Orleans, and two of its successful programs—the Drive-and-Shoot Program and Crime Stoppers. He said the Crime Stoppers programs has helped solve 77 major cases in the city by posting information about criminals being sought and offering rewards to those who provide information that leads to arrests. He urged those at the breakfast meeting to sign up for one of the Drive-and-Shoot Programs.

He also urged the business people to install cameras in their places of business, because cameras have proven to be very helpful in solving crimes where they have been place throughout the city.

Pennington said one of the biggest problems is that when criminals are caught they get no time in jail. They are bonded out by judges. He also said nothing happens to juveniles who are arrested for ceimes because the 12-point program instituted by the state does not accumulate, therefore it is almost impossible to put them in jail for anything less that a crime such as murder. He said there is some present thought of changing that point program.

Asked for his reaction to the legislation passed by the General Assembly this year that would allow people to carry firearms in parks, restaurants and on public transportation, Pennington predicted there would be an increase of shootings in the city if the governor allowed that to become law.

In response to another question from the audience, Pennington said he was not aware of any terrorist activities in the city of Atlanta.