Atlanta’s police department for years has failed to confront a serious crime problem and has even downplayed it, a new audit concludes. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says the report, to be released today, describes a department where crime reports have been either intentionally suppressed or lost through sloppy record keeping. The result has been altered crime statistics, said Police Chief Richard Pennington. Pennington, who came to Atlanta from New Orleans in 2002, asked New York-based Linder & Associates to review a year’s worth of reported crimes to determine whether each was properly classified and documented.
Pennington likely will use the findings to make major changes in the department, which he said suffered from low morale, understaffing, and inadequate equipment. The research was funded by the Atlanta Police Foundation, which Pennington formed to raise money to supplement his budget.
Among the findings:
* Crimes have been consistently under-reported to the public over the years. One ranking officer said the police department’s job was to protect the city’s image for tourism.
* Thousands of fugitives, including murderers, wander streets with little worry that they’ll be tracked down. Fugitives usually aren’t taken into custody until picked up on a traffic stop or another new crime.
* Atlanta’s crime problem is worse than the FBI crime statistics indicate because 15 other law enforcement agencies – such as universities and transit police – take reports but don’t report them to the Atlanta Police Department or FBI.
* A revolving-door justice system in Fulton County Superior Court ensures that many burglars, drug dealers, car thieves, and snatch thieves spend little time in jail.
* The police department has been corrupted by a culture that has made some cops more loyal to outside jobs than to their duties as police officers. “When they came to work, they are too tired to work,” Pennington said. “They came to work to relax.”
Most shocking to Pennington was that of residents surveyed, only 27 percent saw crime as the city’s No. 1 problem. “More people said they are concerned about traffic than they are about crime,” he said.
The police force has just under 1,500 sworn officers, which Pennington plans to increase to more than 1,700 this year. The city needs at least 2,000 officers to effectively patrol the city, he said.