September 27, 2015

Notes from Virginia-Highland Street Captain Meeting, 9/19/2015

Court Watch - Danielle Simpson, Citizens' CourtWatch Coordinator, Fulton County District Attorney's Office

The basic duties of a Street Captain are to develop an email distribution list for your street and pass on safety reports to your residents. Street Captains can also welcome new residents  - Eleanor has a "Welcome" letter that Street Captains can give to new residents, including links to sign up for Voice, vhlist, NextDoor, parents association, etc. to stay connected.  Also many Captains organize get-togethers so that neighbors know each other.  Another recommendation is to tell new residents about package-receiving services and why they should use them. Eleanor will add this to the Welcome letter.

As CourtWatch Coordinator, Ms. Simpson is a liaison between Keith Lamar, the Community Prosecutor for APD  Zone 6, and community residents. Mr. Lamar is responsible for prosecuting repeat offenders of Quality of Life crimes, such as burglary and theft from autos.  Many criminals don't live in our community – they come from all over Fulton to prey on our residents, and many do so repeatedly.

The CourtWatch program is called “The Eyes and Ears of the Community in Court.” Concerned residents speak up on behalf of our community about how a particular offender has affected us. The presiding judge can take the community impact into account when considering whether to grant a defendant bond and when imposing sentence. Sometimes a judge may be considering probation but may choose imprisonment instead, because of community response based on how many times a particular criminal has committed the same offenses. Sometimes the sentence can include being banned from the zone. Or the judge may decide to officially "recidivise" an offender so that every day of the sentence must be served – no time off for good behavior.

Ms. Simpson has a background in media as well as law and has added a media presence to the CourtWatch program. Fulton County Citizens’ CourtWatch has over 150 followers on Facebook. She also uses Instagram and Twitter, and she sends information about court proceedings for these defendants to Zone 6 residents who sign up on for the CourtWatch e-mail distribution list. There are 3 ways to get involved: (1) attend court proceedings and give a community impact statement in person ("I have lived here for x years and this is how it has affected me and my community".); (2) give a written statement that Ms. Simpson can deliver in court (written statements may be given anonymously if you feel unsafe giving your name); or (3) just come and observe. Even if we don't talk, being there lets the court and the prosecutor know that residents care enough to be there.

Through social media and the email distribution list, Ms. Simpson can tell us roughly when a case is coming up.  Sometimes there is very short notice that someone is coming to trial – sometimes just a day or two before. When a case is scheduled, let her know when you plan to attend, and she will do whatever she can to facilitate our participation. She can let you know the best time to arrive and where to park. She tries to have cases heard first if members of the community are there. Sometimes court proceedings may be unexpectedly delayed for a few hours – she can take your phone number and send a text when the judge reaches a particular case.

Even though CourtWatch focuses on repeat offenders, the community prosecutor usually keeps CourtWatch informed about any major crime in the zone. We can also reach out to Ms. Simpson about a particular major crime that we want updates about. She will email her contact info next week and some info about CourtWatch to everyone who gave an email address at the meeting. Kay Stephenson has developed an informal database of judges' records in relation to the sentencing they impose compared to prosecutor recommendations and would appreciate input from other CourtWatch participants for this record-keeping.

FBAC - Kay Stephenson

FBAC (Fight Back Against Crime) is a private security patrol in Virginia-Highland, started 25 years ago by an APD officer, Chris Clark, and Beth Marks, a resident. The organization is run by volunteers. All patrol officers are APD officers who have full arrest powers even when they are off-duty. Although they use private vehicles, they have police radios and hear the same dispatches as on-duty officers, so if someone in the neighborhood calls 911 during a patrol shift, the FBAC officer will usually get to the caller before APD because they're already in the neighborhood. Because of thin staffing, APD is mostly reactive, responding to 911 calls, and cannot devote much time to preventive policing. FBAC can be more proactive.

All our FBAC officers have worked in this beat or Zone for APD, so they are familiar with the area. They know the homeless guys and criminals who are here often. They patrol the whole neighborhood, including areas like Maiden Lane, and can make sure no one is setting up camp there. They can spot people who have outstanding warrants. If an FBAC patrol catches someone and an arrest is appropriate, they call an on-duty officer to make the arrest, so they can quickly get back to patrolling. Because of this we don't have stats on how many arrests FBAC has accomplished.

Over the years, the area FBAC covers has been expanded to the entire Virginia-Highland neighborhood. Membership costs $25 per month for single family homes, less for multiple units in condos or apartments. Except for FBAC yard and vehicle signs and a computer bought this year, 100% of members’ dues go to paying officers who patrol. FBAC has over 300 member families now, and at that funding level we can schedule 40 shifts a month, with double shifts ten days per month. Most crime in our zone is at night so we have predominantly night patrols. Members get a monthly newsletter, with safety tips and a schedule of patrols for the month. During patrol hours, you can call them directly via their cell phone number to report an incident or anything suspicious (always call 911 first for emergency help or to report a crime).

Another benefit for FBAC members is the vacation service: you can send FBAC an email that you’ll be out of town and they will walk around your house and check windows during every shift. (Although you can also request a "directed patrol" by APD when you are away, APD only drives by.) A third benefit of membership: you can schedule an officer to come and do a home security analysis that will include suggestions for making your home more secure. Members also get a yard sign. The FBAC website, which was recently upgraded based on a survey, is, and there is also a Facebook page.  Of FBAC members who responded to the recent survey, 85% would strongly recommend membership to other residents. Even 30% of non-members would recommend membership.

A question was raised about whether the police assign fewer resources to those neighborhoods that have a private security patrol.  Kay reached out to Major Peek and received this reply after the meeting:
Good morning Kay,
Thank you for sharing your concern and to address the question, the answer is absolutely not. Resource allocations are based on the number of assigned beats, 911 calls for service as well as the population. We will always dedicate resources to your area, regardless of whether you have established a security patrol or not. When giving additional resources, your security patrol is not considered at all. We do encourage officers working your security patrol to communicate with on duty personnel so that on duty as well as off duty officers understand the crime challenges for your community. Hopefully, this clears up any misunderstandings. 

Major T. D. Peek
Zone Six Precinct
Atlanta Police Department

Update from Safety Chair for the Virginia-Highland Civic Association—Peggy Berg

Safety Stats report: A new monthly safety stats report comes out through the Voice and is on VaHi website. Shows trends by month and year to date for beat 601, which is VaHi. Here is the link to the reports:

House number signs: VHCA now has house number signs for sale to make it easier for folks (visitors and emergency vehicles) to find our homes easily. There are 3 designs with the Virginia-Highland logo. Price range is from around $40 for a wooden sign to around $200 for a cutout metal sign. You can see examples at 899 Arlington Place and at 1105 Rosedale Drive. Here is the link to purchase a custom Virginia-Highland house number sign:

Sidewalks: Until recently, the City only paid to repair sidewalks that were part of other projects and where trees owned by the City (those in the right-of-way) had damaged a sidewalk. A couple of years ago, over 200 VaHi homeowners participated in a sidewalk repair program where the City paid a portion of the costs. The investment by those owners greatly improved the walkability of the entire neighborhood, but the City no longer has that program available. However, the VaHi program showed the City how important sidewalk maintenance is and how valuable it is to residents. Partly as a result, City Council modified the ordinance that makes abutting property owners responsible for sidewalk maintenance so that the City can and will have a sidewalk maintenance program. As a result, Atlanta now has a budget for sidewalk maintenance and the budget should increase each year. The ordinance, at the insistence of Mary Norwood and Alex Wan, requires the City to have a policy about how it will prioritize sidewalk work and to provide reports on the work done. Last week, City Council’s Utilities Committee arranged with DPW to have a draft of a sidewalk prioritization policy ready in 45 days. Prioritization is about selecting sidewalk projects that increase connectivity and provide pedestrian access to facilities like schools. The prioritization policy and reporting are crucial for transparency and good government and were strongly supported by the VHCA. This is progress.

Street Captain Discussion - Eleanor Barrineau 

Street captains should remind residents about the Clean Car Campaign (to not leave anything in parked cars), to warn workers not to leave equipment exposed on their trucks/vans and not to leave a ladder against your house. Street captains should advise their neighbors about using 311 only for service issues – be sure to call 911 for safety issues and whenever someone should be dispatched, because the City tracks where calls are coming from and allocates resources accordingly. 911 dispatchers are trained to prioritize the incoming calls, so you don't have to worry about tying up resources by calling about something less urgent.

John Wolfinger - Our neighborhood watch system is the largest and most active in the city--thanks to all of the Street Captains for their dedication to the safety and betterment of our community.

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