A new “Buckhead Security Plan” created by a team of local organizations, officials and residents in response to a rise in some types of crime largely calls for beefing up existing police tactics, laws and policies. A key new feature is coordinating the neighborhood’s myriad private security patrols and enlarging an existing one in the central business district.

“In the wake of a global pandemic, with shifting attitudes toward law enforcement and public decorum, Atlantans have seen many of those gains disappear in 2020,” the plan says. “As a consequence, the quality of life for those living in, working in and visiting popular Atlanta neighborhoods, such as Buckhead, has suffered. This plan represents Buckhead’s effort to do its part in promoting safety and security for all Atlantans while working to reclaim the quality of life that each resident has come to expect.”

The cover image of the new “Buckhead Security Plan.”

Spearheaded by the Buckhead Coalition, the Buckhead Community Improvement District and the Atlanta Police Foundation, the plan was released Dec. 2. It addresses concerns about shootings, street racing and other crimes on the rise in Buckhead and aims to aid the entire city. But its “zero-tolerance” language has a political side as well, reflecting local unhappiness with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ very different approach to policing in the wake of this year’s Black Lives Matter protests that, in the most extreme form, revived separatist talk of Buckhead becoming its own city.

While developed with input from her administration, the plan specifically calls on Bottoms to support the document and make a public anti-crime declaration. And it apparently alludes to the Black Lives Matter protests only negatively as reducing respect for the police and as “civil unrest” that could be a “threat” to the plan itself. The online version of the plan originally included a photo of a White woman holding a sign reading “Enough” over the caption “A call to action,” as if it were from an anti-crime protest; in fact, the image came from a stock collection of photos apparently taken at a Black Lives Matter protest in London about the police killing of George Floyd. The photo was deleted from the document after the Reporter informed Cookerly Public Relations, the firm promoting the plan, about its origins.

Above, the “Enough” protest photo as it appeared in the “Buckhead Security Plan” document; below, the photo as it appears in its original gallery of other George Floyd protest photos on the free stock photo site Upsplash.

Despite its public-policy nature and involvement of government agencies, the plan was developed in private virtual meetings to which the CID and the Coalition denied the Reporter access. Jim Durrett, who heads both organizations, said there will be public input opportunities as various team members work to execute and possibly raise funds for the proposals in the plan. The general framework is a mix of public and private funding.

The plan acknowledges that overall crime rates are down — 17% citywide over this month last year — and its proposals reflect the variety of specific types that are up, from street shootings to noisy parties to car thefts to drag racing to illicit nightclubs.

The entire document can be read online here.

Enforcement and policy proposals

The plan has two broad categories of initiatives, each with its own mission statement. “Deterrence & Enforcement” aims to “enforce a zero-tolerance policy when crimes and violations occur.” The “Policy & Procedural Change” categories says, “Certain existing policies and procedures are not producing effective security results and need to be re-examined and/or changed.”

The effort behind the plan sprang directly from a suggestion by Robb Pitts, chair of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, for a neighborhood-wide private security patrol that was quickly dubbed “Buckhead Blue” after a similar Midtown program. The concept, albeit in a scaled-down version, remains the key new feature in the plan. It calls for funding and operating a “coordinated security patrol” in both the commercial and residential areas. That would include a “multi-car” patrol in the commercial area — which the CID is already ramping up — and a “coordinated communications platform” for the private patrols in residential neighborhoods.

Also on the enforcement list:

  • Expanding the “Operation Shield” security camera program.
  • Boosting advertising of the Crime Stoppers of Greater Atlanta reward program and offering special rewards for Buckhead crimes.
  • A “Clean Car” educational campaign for people to stop leaving vehicles unlocked or with valuables in them. Auto thefts and break-ins are among the biggest categories of local crime on the rise and, police repeatedly say, are easily preventable.
  • Investigate unspecified “technology” and pilot its use in Buckhead.

The policy section is more varied. Among its many proposals are helping Atlanta Police Department officers with everything from gift cards to housing; assessing community policing programs; increasing local support for the APF’s youth and community center programs; aiding license and permit checks at nightlife spots; changing laws to increase sentences and target repeat offenders; strategizing on unlawful gun possession; and find a way to “crack down effectively” on party houses and “rowdy behavior at hotels.”

That is also the section with the objective: “Ask Mayor Bottoms to support this plan and to publicly declare, especially for out-of-town visitors, that lawless behavior will not be tolerated in Atlanta.” The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a comment request about the plan and that specific request.

The plan also lists “potential threats to our success.” A particular one to avoid is reduction in staffing at Buckhead’s Zone 2 APD precinct due to the plan’s own idea of private investment. Other concerns include the pandemic getting worse; “civil unrest”; budget pressures, tax base erosion “due to a business and residential exodus”; and “increasing brazenness” from party-goers and street racers.

The planning team

Besides the Coalition, the CID and the APF, the team that put together the plan included: Atlanta City Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit and Howard Shook; Pitts, the Fulton commission chair; Fulton Commissioner Lee Morris; Jon Keen, the city’s chief operating officer; APD; Livable Buckhead; the Buckhead Business Association; the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods; and the chairs of Neighborhood Planning Units A, B and C.

That list did not include independent criminologists nor any police-reform advocates. Also not on that team was City Councilmember Jennifer Ide, whose District 6 includes Buckhead’s Lindbergh, Armour and Brookwood Hills areas, and who previously proposed withholding a large part of APD’s budget pending reform plans. Ide did not immediately respond to a comment request about the Buckhead Security Plan.

This year’s historic protests over racism and policing had a complicated reception in Buckhead. The first night of George Floyd protests in May spun off rioting and looting in the neighborhood. However, many residents and organizations soon issued statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and peaceful protests. The local mood shifted again in June with the APD killing of Rayshard Brooks. Bottoms quickly declared the killing unjustified and Police Chief Erika Shields, who is popular among many Buckhead residents, resigned. Some APD officers reportedly called out in protest; a child was shot to death near the site of Brooks’s killing where the city had allowed armed protests to remain; and tensions mounted.

The CID was among the organizations that said it supported the Black Lives Matter movement and protesters who were “pushing for an end to racial injustice.” It pledged to start “listening to Black and Brown voices and others among us who have marginalized.”

Asked how that stance squares with a “zero-tolerance” security plan developed without protester input, Durrett said in a written statement that the CID hasn’t changed its mind and that more seats at the table will be available later. And he noted the plan includes proposals like boosting youth and community center programs.

“The CID’s statement of support for peaceful protests to end racial injustice still stands and doesn’t conflict with this plan to address crime in Buckhead,” he said. “The Buckhead Security Plan … is a starting point for increasing safety and security for everyone in Buckhead. …  As the groups tasked with action areas begin their work, there will be additional opportunities to gather input from diverse voices across the city.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.