Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields speaks at the June 25 Buckhead Rotary meeting. (Evelyn Andrews)

Thefts from cars, particularly of guns, remain Buckhead’s biggest crime problem, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said at a June 25 Buckhead Rotary meeting.

“It’s a consequence of having unsecured guns,” she said.

About 51 percent of crime across the city this year has revolved around vehicles, she said. Of that 51 percent, more than half occurs in Buckhead or downtown, due to the sheer number of cars in those areas and the frequency owners leave valuables inside them, Shields said.

In Zone 2, Buckhead’s police zone, there have been 1,189 thefts from cars so far this year, a 32 percent increase over this time last year, according to APD data.

“Putting a gun in a console or under a seat is not responsible,” she said. “It’s easy pickings.”

Shields suggested residents buy a lock box for their gun to secure to a fixed point in the car.

“We have to educate around responsible ownership,” she said.

Those thefts are often done by teenagers, sometimes putting guns in the hands of children as young as nine, she said.

“This is a situation that you cannot just go in with a head full of steam. You’re dealing with kids that don’t have anything. If I don’t have food and I don’t have clothes, of course I’m going to steal, and you know what, I’m going to the part of town that has better stuff to steal,” she said.

Because car thefts are difficult to prosecute, a task force charged with finding people who broke into cars was disbanded years ago, Shields said. But because of the increases in the last two years, the APD reallocated officers earlier this year to pursue offenders.

“When the people committing these crimes know you will not pursue them, it’s free reign,” she said. “We had to reign that in.”

Officers assigned to tackle this crime and half arrested “a couple hundred people” in connection with car-related crimes and have recovered about 40 vehicles since they were assigned three months ago, she said.

“We’re in the right area, but we still have our work cut out for us,” she said.