December was a trying month for the residents of Capitol View, although that's probably putting it lightly. The tight-knit if crime-plagued Southwest Atlanta neighborhood witnessed a disturbing increase in the number of home invasions — even though such crimes had already become a pervasive problem in recent months.
A resident named Andre says that on his street alone, no fewer than eight houses have been broken into in the past six months. At least three of those burglaries took place during a single week in December. "Mary," a Capitol View resident and rental property owner (who asked not to be identified by name for fear of being targeted), was the victim of five break-ins over the course of just five months at the homes she owns. The most recent of those, an attempted break-in, took place at her own residence in late December while she was out celebrating her birthday.
A January 6 post on CL's Fresh Loaf blog about the issue elicited more anecdotes and affirmations from frustrated neighbors. A commenter and nine-month Capitol View resident wrote, "My house was one of many broken into and burglarized the night of December 16 ... My house had been completely flipped and several thousand dollars worth of personal property stolen. [Officers] have been informative and sympathetic, but have told me there is no legal action I will be able to take, even though my insurance will cover the monetary loss." Another neighbor going by "souloulou" wrote, "The influx in break-ins has significantly increased in our neighborhood over the past six months and more recently in the past four weeks. I think everyone is overlooking the fact that there are concerned citizens in a neighborhood that want to feel safe in their home, and although break-ins can happen anywhere, want to know that they will not be sitting ducks due to a harmful reassignment."
There's some disagreement among neighbors about the cause of the spike in the number of burglaries. (There's even disagreement about whether there's been a spike at all, or whether a burglary problem that's always existed has very gradually gotten worse.) But the "harmful reassignment" to which "souloulou" is referring is the relocation of a well-liked officer to another nearby beat. The change was part of the APD's recent beat redesign, which took effect on December 12, and which happens to coincide with the burglary spree.
The beat redesign was intended to improve service to communities. The idea was that more evenly distributing individual officer workloads would heighten police presence, shorten 911 response times, and generally improve public safety. Mary, who waited four hours for police to arrive when her home was broken into in December, is dubious that goal has been accomplished. According to the neighborhood beat report — which also encompasses Capitol View Manor, Adair Park, and Oakland City — all but nine of the 28 home burglaries reported in the area in December took place after the redesign.
In a December 21 email to concerned resident Mary, subsequently posted on the neighborhood listserv, Zone 3 Commander Major Barbara Cavender acknowledged a "sudden rise" in the number of home break-ins, saying, "I myself have taken notice of this disturbing trend and have directed additional resources to help curb this problem." Of the redesign, she said, "Through more than two years of planning and research, our new design will help us to better respond to Capitol View, and all communities throughout the city. As with any change there will be an adjustment period for all personnel." Mary calls that response "unacceptable," since "every time [police] have an 'adjustment period,' someone gets shot or robbed."
Darin Bohm, president of Capitol View's neighborhood association, isn't convinced the beat redesign is to blame for the burglary problem. "I think the neighborhood is being targeted by individuals who feel like there are no repercussions to their actions," Bohm says. Another resident and Fresh Loaf reader blamed neighborhood kids: "Many neighbors KNOW the little thugs who burglarized many homes in the last couple of weeks." The reader also believes that police suspect neighborhood youths are to blame, but because the offenders are juveniles, they would face little threat of prosecution. (Police typically don't comment on suspects in ongoing investigations.)
As CL went to press, Atlanta Police Department officials and residents of Capitol View sat down to discuss solutions to the burglary problem. Prior to the meeting, police provided residents with a list of preliminary precautions they could take to protect themselves, like installing and activating alarms, cameras, and burglar bars — precautions many residents have already taken. In the meantime, some neighbors feel like they're just waiting to become the next victims. "I think a lot of people feel stuck and feel preyed upon," Andre says. "They're waiting for it to happen — it's not if, it's when."