New Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields gave her first press conference Feb. 10 to outline her public safety plan for the city.

Shields said she had been working with colleagues for the last six weeks reviewing critical needs for the city and acknowledged that while crime is down, APD can do better.

Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields.

“There has been a 27 percent reduction in crime under Mayor [Kasim] Reed,” Shields said, “but when people believe their safety is an issue, data is useless. I think people are tired of hearing data.”

The chief said reduction of violent crime is the department’s number one priority.

Shields said APD would be contacting property owners and managers at a handful of apartment complexes that have some of the most violent crime in the city. She also said the department would be focusing on repeat offenders “who have no ambition in life except to victimize others.”

Shields said repeat offenders are causing most of the crime, and many have 25 to 50 arrests, but gaps in the criminal justice system allow them back on the streets.

“We are going to rein in the relatively small number of repeat offenders doing most of the crime,” she promised.

Another high priority will be working to curb juvenile crime. “The juvenile justice system is not working,” Shields said, noting that five juveniles in the city have more than 100 arrests between them at such early ages.

Shields said young, black males are growing up with nothing in their lives, including absent or disinterested parents, no structure, education and often just hungry for food. That leads to joining gangs and engaging in criminal behavior.

“APD has no desire to lock up young, black men. Too many young, black men have been locked up for no reason, but there has to be a middle ground between locking them up and sending them back to nothing. These kids matter to us.”

She said APD would be working with partners to develop programs to reach out to the top 100 juvenile offenders and steer them away from criminality. One tool will be the new At-Promise Youth Center on the Westside. This 17,000 square-foot facility will be transformed into a state-of-the-art space with specialized services for youth and residents focused on educational advancement, mental health, social/emotional learning and workforce development.

Shields said improving APD’s technology, recruitment and retention of police officers and a new four-year pay plan were also on her vision list for the future.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.