Access to crime stats not always easy, Channel 2 investigation finds

ATLANTA — Hardly 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 elections.

But understanding actual crime trends requires having access to basic information from police agencies.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher found out that getting those crime stats can be difficult.

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He compared two major metro area police departments. The Atlanta Police Department makes it easy, but DeKalb PD took weeks to respond to our request. An attorney for DeKalb says the problem was the way Channel 2 worded our request.

Atlanta has a serious crime problem, and the statistics bear that out. Through week 34 of this year, murders were up 67% over the same period in 2019 -- the year before the surge started. Aggravated assaults are up 25% over the same period. We found those numbers with just a few key strokes on the comput


APD’s website offers citywide numbers and breaks them down across all six police zones. It also compares data with the week before and the year before.

DeKalb also has a serious crime problem. Murder, aggravated assault, robbery and rape are all up this year. But getting that information from DKPD is not nearly so easy as it is to get the same from APD.

We started by asking Dekalb for week-by-week numbers for the year. Directed to file a formal request under the Georgia Open Records Act, we did so and added that we’d like to be able to compare the 2022 incident totals with totals from 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 business days, two calendar weeks. But that deadline came and went with no response. DKPD finally said the spokesman for DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond had taken over our request.

We finally got the numbers after complaining to the county’s Law Department. It took 28 days, and we did not receive the weekly comparisons for 2021 vs. 2022.

“Your request sought a document that is not normally produced by the DeKalb County Police Department, and they could have responded as such and shut down the inquiry at that point,” says Matthew Welch, an attorney for the county. He says DeKalb didn’t have to respond at all because of the way we worded our request, seeking a document that DKPD doesn’t keep as a routine matter.

He agrees that crime data is important and says DeKalb has data available on a yearly and monthly basis but not in the format we sought.

Belcher specifically referenced APD’s system: “Do you have anything like that in DeKalb?” Matthews responded, “I have absolutely zero familiarity with how the City of Atlanta keeps their records, sir. I represent DeKalb County.”

We shared the DeKalb data we received with community activist Joscelyn O’Neil. We also showed her the APD site.

“I was very much surprised at it, and I was very much disappointed at the report that we actually received.”

About APD’s system, O’Neil says she’s “quite impressed” because “I would love to have more direct input, not just word of mouth, by stats, by data, by reports.”

A spokeswoman for APD told Channel 2 operating and maintaining that system costs the department about $5500-a-year.

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