Atlanta is the 9th largest metro area in the United States and the largest commercial and transportation hub of the southeast. It also has the busiest airport in the nation. In fact, nearly a quarter million passengers flow through every day. Atlanta is also nicknamed "The Perimeter" because Interstate 285 makes the clear distinction of the boundaries to both the inside and the outside of the city. With such a heavily populated and well-traveled area, law enforcement agencies here face fiscal challenges to provide protection and also ensure Atlanta is as safe and secure as possible.
Chief of Police Richard Pennington faces challenges similar to other major metro areas in complying with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations. The goal is to protect critical infrastructure while maintaining a low crime rate.
The Atlanta Police Department holds weekly meetings for the command staff of 150 as well as the special operations and airport zone employees. Entitled "Command Operations Briefing to Revitalize Atlanta" (COBRA), meetings begin with attendees reporting to Pennington to identify areas with high criminal activity.
According to Pennington, the crime rate in Atlanta has improved from the second highest in the nation to its current ranking of 17th.
At the COBRA meetings, the overhead screens tell the tale. New crime mapping technology illustrates the increases and decreases in murders, rapes, robberies, narcotics arrests, domestic violence and gang activity. Each commander shares information, reports and intelligence from within the city and surrounding counties.
Officers also give their report to indicate exactly the type of equipment needed to reduce crime, which often changes on a weekly basis. Depending on the greatest need, meeting topics vary from car theft to gang activity to a reduction in narcotics requests.
In light of the unexpected 5 percent crime rate increase thus far in 2007, Pennington's goal is to reduce crime by 8 percent by the end of the year.
"Any increase is unacceptable and I won't tolerate it. We are going to improve on last year's progress," Pennington says.Infrastructure funding
Though not designated as one of the "Tier One" cities, Atlanta currently receives Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant assistance.
Approximately $1 million was allotted to the airport between 2004 and 2006 along with funding from DHA and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to comply with new federal regulations after September 11, 2001.
In the next round of UASI funding, Atlanta must compete with 39 other "Tier Two" urban areas for a combined $336,105,000. In Fiscal Year 2006 Atlanta received $18,660,000. The combined total of UASI funding for Atlanta in Fiscal Years 2003 to 2006 was $42,458,356. New urban areas added for 2007 include Norfolk, Virginia, Providence, Rhode Island, Tucson, Arizona and El Paso, Texas.
Like every other major city, Pennington says Atlanta needs more funding, but it isn't an excuse to let the crime rate continue to rise.
"We are definitely more attentive to Homeland Security issues," Pennington says. "We have a diverse population and a continuous flow of global travelers. Intelligence gathering and sharing is standard operating procedure here."
Maj. C.J. Davis is the first Commander of Atlanta's Homeland Security Section. With approximately $3 million in UASI funding, Davis was able to assess Atlanta's security needs for its critical infrastructure.
"We've used some UASI money to start up the department," Davis says. "We didn't have one analyst or specialized computer equipment for intelligence gathering. Now we have all that in place.
"Clearly, our biggest concerns are the airport, Centennial Park, the Georgia Dome and our railroad infrastructure," she explains. "Some of our rail lines run directly under sensitive areas. We restricted the loads they are allowed to carry, and had to reroute several lines to accommodate the change."