Atlanta’s interim police chief says plan in place to combat city’s rising crime

ATLANTA — We’ve been reporting for weeks about the rise in violent crime across the city of Atlanta, and now, we’ve learned arrests are down as well.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne spoke exclusively with Atlanta’s interim police chief on Wednesday about the crime concerns.

Interim Chief Rodney Bryant told Winne there is no denying arrests are down and violent crime is up, but he said other police chiefs tell him similar things are happening in other big cities.

Bryant said the Atlanta Police Department has spent months coming up with a plan he expects the mayor will unveil at her upcoming state of the city address.

“I am saying that violent crime is up, but the strategies that we have in place will absolutely have an effect on it, and we will see those numbers trend downward,” Bryant said.

APD said on its face, data shows key violent crime numbers are up dramatically in 2021 through March 20 compared to a similar time frame in 2020.

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Killings are up 47%, though a drop in key property crimes means the overall major crime rate is only up 4%. But the data also shows a dramatic decrease in arrests.

Bryant said murder arrests are down from 13 to eight for that time frame. Aggravated assault arrests are down 31%.

“When you look at the arrest numbers, chief, they look really bad, right?” Winne asked Bryant.

“Well, a lot goes into arrest numbers,” Bryant said.

The chief suggested the violent crime stats and arrest stats are affected by the same factor -- that COVID-19 is causing more acquaintance-on-acquaintance crimes.

“We aren’t able to get into communities and build the relationships and trust as we have due to COVID,” Bryant said.

Those crimes often yield less cooperation because victims know each other, and many of the non-police services that affect conflict resolution are significantly restricted because of COVID-19.

“We had much more resources available,” Bryant said.

The chief told Winne that police morale is a factor but improving.

“We were in a rough place last summer. But every day, our officers get better and better,” Bryant said.

He also said police manpower is a factor.

“We’re close to 400 officers down, but those numbers are improving,” Bryant said.

The chief also said crime stats are reported differently this year over last.

“The 2020 numbers and the 2021 numbers are not apples to apples?” Winne asked Bryant.

“They’re not,” Bryant said.

The chief also said the crime rate increase appears to be slowing. APD said for the four weeks ending on March 20, the murder rate was the same as roughly the previous four weeks.

“We believe that the plan that we will implement and have implemented will pay significant dividends,” Bryant said.

APD maintains the murder clear-up rate, which may include, for instance, an arrest that clears up a case from another year or various other scenarios, for this year is 75%, an improvement over 63% for all 2020.

Bryant said besides the eight murder arrests this year, APD’s homicide unit has warrants for 10 other people on homicide charges.

He said 24 new officers should hit the streets on Thursday, but it will take a while to erase the manpower deficit of 400 officers.