Not a day goes by that there isn’t a violent crime – or several – somewhere in metro Atlanta. The sharp rise in violent crime is a public concern and is an issue in this year’s election. But understanding real crime trends requires access to basic information from police departments. Channel 2 investigative journalist Richard Belcher has discovered that it can be difficult to get these crime statistics.
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He compared two major police departments in the metropolitan area. The Atlanta Police Department is making it easy, but DeKalb PD took weeks to respond to our request. A lawyer for DeKalb says the problem was the way Channel 2 framed our request.
Atlanta has a serious crime problem, and the statistics confirm it. In week 34 of this year, murders increased by 67% compared to the same period in 2019, the year before the outbreak began. Aggravated assaults are up 25% over the same period. We found these numbers in a few keystrokes on the computer
The APD website offers citywide numbers and breaks them down into the six police zones. It also compares the data with the previous week and the previous year.
DeKalb also has a serious crime problem. Murders, aggravated assaults, robberies and rapes are all up this year. But getting this information from DKPD is not as easy as getting the same from APD.
We started by asking Dekalb for week-by-week numbers for the year. Invited to file a formal request under the Georgia Open Records Act, we did and added that we would like to be able to compare 2022 incident totals with totals for the same period in 2021, in other words , exactly what anyone can do with the APD site. A few days later, DKPD said it would take ten working days, two calendar weeks. But that delay has come and gone with no response. DKPD eventually said DeKalb CEO spokesman Michael Thurmond took up our request. We finally got the numbers after complaining to the county legal department. It took 28 days and we haven’t received the weekly comparisons for 2021 vs 2022.
“Your request was for a document that is not normally produced by the DeKalb County Police Department, and they could have responded as such and terminated the investigation at this point,” said attorney Matthew Welch. County. He says DeKalb didn’t have to respond at all because of the way we worded our request, looking for a document that DKPD doesn’t routinely keep.
He agrees that crime data is important and says DeKalb has data available on an annual and monthly basis, but not in the format we were looking for.
Belcher specifically referenced the APD system: “Do you have anything like that at DeKalb?” Matthews replied, “I have absolutely no knowledge of how the city of Atlanta keeps its records, sir. I represent DeKalb County.
We shared the DeKalb data we received with community activist Joscelyn O’Neil. We also showed him the APD site. “I was very surprised by it and I was very disappointed with the report that we actually received.” About the APD system, O’Neil says she is “pretty impressed” because “I would like to have more direct input, not just word of mouth, through statistics, data, reports.”
An APD spokeswoman told Channel 2 that operating and maintaining the system cost the department about $5,500 a year.
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