ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has learned that an online portal for reporting non-violent crimes in Atlanta has been out of commission for more than three months.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher learned a big reason for creating the portal was to free up police for more urgent calls.
When then-Police Chief Erika Shields announced the system in late 2018, she announced that online system meant officers could devote more time to high-priority calls and less to things like credit card fraud.
But the city’s been out of the portal business since the first of the year -- not for technical reasons – but because of an error in purchasing. In an interview with Channel 2, veteran city councilperson Michael Julian Bond called the error and its long-lasting consequences “completely unacceptable” and “a breach of trust.”
The most compelling problem in Atlanta right now -- and likely the No. 1 issue in this year’s city elections -- is crime.
Murders and overall shooting incidents exploded last spring and haven’t retreated, but APD can’t devote its resources solely to violent and other serious crimes.
Officers also have to deal with the drip, drip of non-violent crimes that may not put people in the hospital or the morgue but still leave angry victims.
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That’s where the online portal is supposed to help. Crimes like vandalism, credit card fraud, gas station drive-offs, identity theft, shoplifting and theft under $10,000 are supposed to be reported through the online portal. But as of late afternoon Tuesday – and for the past 3+ months – a message in red on the portal read: “The online reporting system is currently unavailable.”
APD emailed to explain the error that sidelined the portal.
“(P)ayment was inadvertently made for the wrong program and the contract lapsed. Our procurement unit is in the process of renewing our contract...we hope to have the program available soon...,” said a statement from the police department.
Councilperson Bond says correcting the problem should have been “pretty simple,” and he criticized the city’s troubled procurement department.
“It just should not take four months to get this kind of contract back on the street, so our citizens can be served, and this is becoming chronic with that particular department,” he told Belcher.
Bond said constituents tell him they suspect the broken web portal is a conscious effort by city hall to suppress crime reporting -- an accusation he doesn’t support. But he contends this diminishes faith in government.
“If we’re going to offer a system that says this is the way that citizens should respond to us on the on these types of offenses and then we don’t keep the system operating then we’re guilty at some level of a breach of trust,” Bond said.
APD said before the portal went down, it was handling about a thousand reports each month. Citizens are now encouraged to report non-violent crimes by going to a police precinct or calling a precinct.
Channel 2 is aware of at least one instance in which an officer was dispatched to a citizen’s home to take a report. The department told Channel 2 this has not affected its ability to deploy officers for high-priority calls.
Department spokesperson Chata Spikes told Channel 2 the portal should be back online “this week” but did not offer a specific date.