Buckhead Crime Wave Follows Last Summer's Violence
Buckhead leaders research seceding from Atlanta and having their own police department.
Violent crime has been on the rise in Buckhead and other parts of Atlanta, Georgia since last summer. According to the Atlanta police department, from January 1 to February 20 homicides were up 80% compared with the same period last year. There were 28 homicides, with shooting incidents up 32%, robberies 17% and aggravated assaults up 47% for the same period.
People who live, shop or work in Buckhead are concerned. My friend, Alex, watched the security camera footage as a man darted into a Buckhead nightclub, aimed his gun, shot a woman, then raced away.
This was not the first time he had witnessed a crime. A few months before, security cameras showed a car exploding into flames. The car was in the parking lot of the Buckhead office building where he worked.
He lives in Alpharetta and travels to his office in Buckhead every day, and every day he is wary and alert. Crime is surging, and lawmakers are wondering what to do about it.
Woman Assaulted in Her Driveway
A 43-year-old restaurant general manager in Buckhead pulled into her driveway, where she was met by two men who yanked her from the car, threw her to the ground, held a gun to her head and threatened to shoot. But instead of killing her, they stole her purse and cellphone.
In another recent incident, home surveillance footage showed a man dashing into his home to escape a man with a rifle.
These assaults are just the tip of the iceberg of a crime wave that has engulfed the police zone that includes Buckhead, an upscale commercial and residential district of Atlanta.
Last year, around 200 officers left the Atlanta force following the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer, and in December, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she was “open to suggestions” about how to stem the violence.
But with violent crime surging and threatening their livelihood and their lives, Buckhead businesses and residents decided not to wait on solutions from city leaders. Instead, they opted to take things into their own hands by launching a committee to explore the possibility of seceding from Atlanta
The Exploratory Committee told The Wall Street Journal that residents must be wary and on guard all the time, even when going to gas stations, shopping malls, the grocery store, and pulling into their driveways.
According to the WSJ article, the police department and criminologists attribute rising violence to a shortage of officers following last summer’s protests over policing. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the pandemic and police recruiting and staffing played roles in violent crime surges in Atlanta and other major cities.
Police Officer Charged With Murder
The situation escalated last summer when Mayor Bottoms decided to fire two officers following the shooting of Rayshard Brooks during a DUI stop at an Atlanta Wendy’s. One of the fired officers faces felony murder and ten other charges. The Wendy’s was subsequently burned to the ground.
Social justice activists supported Mayor Bottoms’ decision, but according to the police union, low morale and lack of support have led large numbers of police officers to resign.
Thomas Wheatley wrote in Atlanta Magazine that after a year of studying whether they could split from Atlanta, the Buckhead Exploratory Committee was moving forward. “The organization hired a lobbyist, informed Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council that it would start reaching out to neighbors, and promised to push for a referendum within the next 24 months,” Wheatley wrote.
Leaving Atlanta as a Solution
One advantage of secession would be that Buckhead would have its own police department.
This is not the first time Buckhead has talked of secession. In 2008, the Fulton County Taxpayer foundation hired an attorney to study the feasibility of incorporating Buckhead. Arguments were made that the City Hall and Atlanta Public Schools had failed communities. Atlanta Progressive News reported that Buckhead residents felt they “pay too much in taxes for too few services and could do a better job with their own city.”
The Buckhead Exploratory Committee stated on an official website launched in January that its mission is to “save Buckhead” by prioritizing community safety with a separate Buckhead police department, wresting control of zoning, and ensuring “proper use of tax revenues to improve education, provide city services, and fix our broken infrastructure.”
But Mayor Bottoms, who recently announced that she will not seek reelection, said establishing Buckhead as its own city is not the answer to increasing crime. In an April 12 speech to the Buckhead Rotary Club, she criticized Buckhead cityhood as a non-solution to crime. Instead, she emphasized the need to continue working together.
But according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sam Lenaeus, president of the Exploratory Committee, said they will be raising funds for a feasibility study to explore the costs of breaking away from Atlanta. The study is expected to cost tens of thousands of dollars, but a poll showed more than 75 percent of 900 voters supported Buckhead's cityhood efforts.
Lenaeus, who is an Atlanta realtor, told 11Alive: "We believe the great people of our city who live, work and visit Atlanta want to feel safe and protected from these atrocities. This is currently a significant challenge and one not being met. It is our hope and we are endeavoring to make this the top priority of our efforts."
Meanwhile the crime wave doesn’t show any signs of abating. In one three-week period, Atlanta police say they've responded to seven reported shootings ins the Buckhead neighborhood.
Last December, 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie was shot in the head as she rode past a high-end Buckhead shopping center in her aunt's car. She died Dec. 26.
More recently, two people were shot and wounded April 17 at a Buckhead Village nightlife spot, according to the Atlanta Police Department.
My friend Alex continues to commute to Buckhead every day because of his job. But he has a carry permit for the gun he keeps in his glove compartment, and he never remains in the Buckhead area after dark.