Criminologists discuss potential factors behind Atlanta’s increase in deadly crime

ATLANTA — After 14 people were shot and 5 more were killed in Atlanta over the weekend, many are asking why this rise in crime is happening and what we can do to make the streets safe again.

An Uber driver’s dash cam caught four people being shot near the Trap Museum on camera. A local artist and actress captured on police body cam footage just moments after being the victim of an armed carjacking on her way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

These are just two examples of terrifying crimes seen across the city of Atlanta.

During the first 18 weeks of 2021, APD statistics show that homicides are up 57%, rapes are up 55%, aggravated assaults are up 36% and auto thefts have risen 31% compared to the same period last year.

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Richard Rosenfeld is a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the lead author of a recent report from the council on criminal justice, which focuses on the rise of violent crime, like homicides, during the pandemic.

“Atlanta is not alone. We’ve seen increases in big cities from New York to St. Louis to Los Angeles to Chicago,” Rosenfeld told Channel 2′s Michael Seiden.

The Major Cities Chiefs Association reported that 63 of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw increases in at least one category in 2020.

“It coincided with almost exactly the emergence of protests against police violence in Atlanta and elsewhere,” said Rosenfeld.

When protestors took to the streets in Atlanta last summer following the murder of George Floyd, they demanded police reform. Many APD officers, who were already tasked with working 12 hour shifts, hit their breaking point too.

After facing criticism from city leaders following the tasing of two college students and the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, morale hit an all time low and resulted in hundreds of officers either calling out sick, resigning or retiring from the force.

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Dr. Thaddeus Johnson offers a unique perspective. After spending a decade on the Memphis police force, Johnson became an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Georgia State University.

He says the police and the public both need to be held accountable in order to tackle crime.

“It’s going to take police partnering with the communities. The problem is this: the trust is gone,” said Dr. Johnson. “Let’s step in an officer’s shoes. You’re the best officer out there. You don’t have any implicit biases. How comfortable would you be going into a community knowing how they look at you? When communities don’t trust police, they are less likely to report crime. Also when people don’t trust police, they are more unlikely to participate as a witness.”

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Jorja Leap is a UCLA professor who serves a gang expert consulting the National Institute of Justice. She says the pandemic has not only exposed the inequities in society, but it’s also resulted in more teens committing crimes.

“Kids didn’t go to school. Youth didn’t go to after school programs. Families were huddled together and people didn’t have food on their table or jobs to go,” she said.

She says all eyes moving forward will be on metro Atlanta.

“Nationally, people are going to be looking at Atlanta with great interest to see which way the city goes. It’s going to either be a city of promise, or city of broken dreams,” Leap said.

APD Chief Rodney Bryant also told Seiden he is greatly disturbed by the surge in violent crime and wants to earn the public’s trust and work on conflict resolution.