APD Series 2

Sharing. It’s one of the first signs of mature development in a child, right? Sadly, we adults remain challenged by this basic human interaction and the consequences of the gaps it creates.

The more and more I learn about my city, I learn the problems exist in the gaps of information, policy, gaps of actual knowledge & understanding. And candidly, as my neighborhood gentrifies, I find those gaps are pushed to a new location. They don’t actually go away, they just get dispersed to a new place- closer now to the perimeter and suburbs. I expect crime to rise in those areas in the future, and I’m unsure how the political leaders in those areas will be able to blame “Atlanta’s problems” on my city anymore. I’m sure they’ll find some sort of way. But right now, I miss things. No longer do I hear the thud of basketball bounces as much in my backyard as my littlest neighbors move further out- from Gideon Rd to now Campbellton, MLK Jr. Dr. to Midway, etc. Fewer impromptu potato sack races in my front yard, nor heads up about the ice cream truck or rib man in the neighborhood. 

I get it. I’m a REALTOR®. Folks want desirable homes to resell and make that generational wealth. Home ownership is the easiest way to achieve that. They want to have safe neighborhoods and attach those dreams to things like proper code enforcement and cameras, good schools and appliance updates. 

I. Still. Don’t. Think. That’s. It. Though. Y’all. Ihatetotellya.

If there’s anything the citizen’s police academy taught me, it’s how siloed the city has been and how much more we need one another to ensure we all succeed. Pushing us one way or another just distracts, it doesn’t actually resolve problems that were created by redlining by the Federal government previous generations. And not sharing information contributes to more division and less trust.

This isn’t limited to Atlanta, either. I’ve written previously about how short changing budgets at the state level overburdens cities. I didn’t mean this in an ephemeral way- the piece I wrote last year focuses on multiple instances of police and ambulance calls responding to one group home that is overseen by the state in my neighborhood. I also was not the first to lament its existence- the APD beat cops my husband and I interacted with were the ones who pointed out the numerous times they had to respond to calls at that particular address. There’s been a robust discussion about law enforcement and abolishment or (in our state) a sticking of heads in the sand and doubling down behind the ‘back the blue’ crowd who likes to tout their opposition to “bad” cops and yet never get around to deeply question the policies of their departments nor the POST training they receive. To me, this is a missed opportunity. The officers I met on my ride along know the patterns and can speak to the neighborhood and city culture. My bet is, the Sheriff’s Deputies in other jurisdictions can speak to the patterns in their areas as well. But rather than engaging these men and women in meaningful work that can lead to reducing emergency situations, we’re calling upon them constantly to serve as temporary bandaids. 

And then we call them again,….and again…..and again. 

The upcoming retirement of the Atlanta Chief of Police is an opportunity for us to look at law enforcement (and our first responders as a whole) in a bold new way. There’s no doubt these men and women need to be paid more, and there’s no doubt they need to be supported more in their work (reliable bullet proof vests, anyone? Mental health screening and counseling?). But we also need to engage them in meaningful ways to provide impact for moving the needle on issues that arise in our city. I see no point in sticking our heads in the sand by assuming when the officer leaves, the problem is resolved. Are the APD the solution to every problem? Absolutely not- as a matter of fact, I would say they create some of their own with poor decisions around use of force. I would also say though that they’re on the ground knowledge of things should be respected, reported up in metrics citizens can follow, and our partners across the city can address. 

I would say to not listen to the APD is to distrust them internally. To not act on the APD’s reporting of situations is to build distrust in the city they want to protect.

But we also have to have the proper tools and understanding OF those tools. 

I don’t mean this in an abstract kumbaya manner. I’m no hippie. I mean, when I asked questions about how the police’s data- the most up to date information our city gets (including our Mayor who the class was informed gets a direct link to APD real time data)- I couldn’t get an answer as to what’s done with that data until I named I wasn’t coming back to the course. I was not the only person who asked about this use, either. Conversely, in the Code Enforcement presentation the class heard, we were told that the data and efforts WERE coordinated and therefore the city was better able to respond to bars operating as nightclubs. 

This was…confusing….and I asked about it. Directly, in the second class and in writing. I had hoped providing my questions in writing BEFORE class would be seen as a positive. I wasn’t playing “gotcha” and said as much. I was genuinely trying to learn. That wasn’t to be, sadly. I did get some answers to my data questions, though. Those questions and their answers are here. I’ll let you be the judge of how great of depth of understanding this provides.

I specifically asked about GIS software. While I am a shamefully low tech person, GIS is a software with which I have some experience. (Thank you, grad school.) Politicos probably recognize GIS is used for mapping purposes- creating all our political maps based on layers of data that is provided by the US Census Bureau. This data is used to compile our maps to (in theory) avoid packing and cracking of districts. Georgia’s political maps are somewhat unique in the nation in that ours have to go through the Dept of Justice before they’re finally approved. We have that nasty history of segregation and all, right? 

So Atlanta, as a city, uses GIS software for mapping purposes as well. On Atlanta’s city website (one of many, frustratingly), if you’re trying to find your police zone, that’s a GIS based map. If you want to find your NPU, that’s a GIS based map. The Dept of Planning has created an entire dashboard that is GIS based. And rather than integrating all of this layer data into one public facing website, the City of Atlanta likes to have 15 individual sites, all with their own branding, motifs, and functions. I feel certain there are some generous contracts per dept that LOVE this lack of integration, as the grift is STRONG here and most government contractors know that under a certain amount, you don’t have to go through the formal procurement and council approved budget process. The private sector LOVES government checks even more than the general public, sadly. And while the state pays around $10Kish for their package to process the census data and create the maps that form the republic as we know it, the City of Atlanta pays almost a cool $1M every fiscal year for our contract with ESRI. Here’s the budget resolution for folks who might be interested in the numbers. 

So…I like knowing where my tax dollars go. So I asked about GIS. No one seemed to know anything about it although most of the public facing crime data on the APD website is GIS based as well. Instead, the officers were really jazzed about a Microsoft program. 

In the second class, we had an interactive presentation of the APD’s Microsoft Power BI based program. It was interesting comparing the neighborhood’s crime data. In some neighborhoods, there were, at times, only two instances of crime in the last year that were reported vs. mine (2 in the last week). I asked how this data was used by our city partners. Deputy Chief Shierbaum told me I would ‘have to ask the partners themselves’. These partners I specifically referenced  would be Invest Atlanta, who provides rental assistance, DFCs, who investigates neglect and abuse cases reported by mandatory reporters like teachers, Atlanta Public Schools Police Dept, which is a separate police department from the Atlanta Police Dept. and run by the school system, yet neither shares data nor works together in tracking abuse, neglect, or information around home situations children may experience. APD collects data, but no one seems to know how this data is used. 

Christ in a casket, y’all?!?!?! Didn’t we just experience a hack a few years ago???

Why is no one concerned about this??

Actually, one of my fellow classmates was concerned about this. He directly asked, and then advised Deputy Chief Schierbaum in a very gracious way, that if you have no idea where or how your data is used, you MIGHT wish to have some more control on the release of that public data. Deputy Chief Schierbaum assured us there was a delay in releasing the data, as they’d had problems with members of the media showing up before the police were able to be present and then damaging crime scenes. Yikes! Should my neighbors start calling the media in order to cut down our hour-long response times in the neighborhood? I mean, we aren’t particular about who shows up in emergencies, just that someone does! 

Data management is important for reasons other than regarding the media and allocating necessary resources. After all, we know crime data is used for determining insurance rates. In my work it may mean a house sells or not, or how much it sells for. I recognize that most people think of home selling as an individual act, but the reality is it shapes cities and is fast becoming an investment tool for hedge funds. Rental real estate has long been a tool for individuals to build wealth. Here’s the latest trend report on homeownership by race from the NAR. Spoiler alert: the homeownership gap between races is widening.

We MIGHT want to at least look into data practices in the city, yes???

Moreover, don’t we actually want to try to resolve long term challenges? It was REALLY COOL to hear about the PAL program the police conduct with engaging children in athletics around the city. The APD uses this as a way to engage vulnerable youth in something to keep them busy so they aren’t left to their own devices outside of school hours. Super awesome! I’m completely in favor of things like this and am SO GRATEFUL (like bottom of my heart, grateful) for the men and women who take the time to have individual meaningful relationships with children. This MAKES A DIFFERENCE- no doubt. 

But you know what else ALSO makes a difference? Like a systematic size one?

Sharing with Atlanta Public Schools Police Dept. and Invest Atlanta that the kid you’re picking up’s parent needs rental assistance, and help navigating the EBT funding via DFCS makes a profound difference- like more than an individual officer picking up their grocery bill does. I’m not here to bad mouth generosity- bravo! Yet I am also aware that if we adjust the systems to the people in them, we might be able to resolve more than one family’s challenge, yes? So if an LEO, or teacher reports to APD and/or an APS PD officer that there are instances of trauma, abuse, or neglect (can we all agree poverty is trauma?) maybe, just maybe, we could track this so that we can address things over time. 


And if we don’t have the systems in place yet, can we work toward that? I often feel like Atlanta is often held together by tape and bubble gum- while this may make things stick, we can agree it might hinder forward movement, yes? 

We have the resources to do this, y’all. 

ATDC at Ga Tech, the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Atlanta Tech Village within the city limits all contribute to the tech and start-up space. To say we don’t have the brains or innovations to address our city’s needs is naive, to say the very least. Bert Reeves, a fellow House alum of Buzz and Scot’s (and most recently a Governor’s Floor Leader after carrying water for Governor Kemp) is now overseeing Government Affairs at Tech (grifting is neither limited to Atlanta nor Democrats, sadly). If I have his cell number, I would think the Mayor does as well and could engage Tech in some impactful projects in the city, perhaps funded by Federal infrastructure dollars that flow through cities this time? I hope all Atlantans will vote on the upcoming TSPLOST vote on May 24th (or before). I’d love to see Tech engineering students focus on our traffic challenges and road design to address how our first responders and citizens move through the city. I’d also welcome the MBAs at Morehouse to look at the APD’s metrics to determine how to better feed data to our city’s partners to address concerns in the neighborhoods across our city. Affordable housing construction, density efforts, rental assistance, and voucher allotment could be paths forward for our city, along with a 20% AMI requirement for all new developments. I feel certain Lt. Governor Duncan’s aspiration to make Georgia the tech hub of the East Coast is a goal that can be reached and we could be the leader in the nation for better data sharing for LEOs. Not because we need more big brother cameras checking up on everyone, but because we need more systems like 311 PADS and the United Ways’ 211 system to connect resources to those who need them. 

We could straight up lead on issues like this as a city, highlighting our state’s cutting edge practices. 

As an aside, I was attending a dinner some years ago when the Lt. Governor shared this aspiration of being the Tech capital of the East Coast to the group. I sat at a table with previous state Representative Beth Beskin of Buckhead, who turned back to the table after the Lt. Governor’s speech was complete and said (I’m paraphrasing here), ‘That’s a great idea, but how do we do it? That’s the question’. I remember suggesting to her that it might be helpful to address bankruptcy laws. In California, one can go from crashing on someone’s couch to a billionaire because of the leniency and resiliency of bankruptcy laws there. If one business venture isn’t successful, the bankruptcy laws in CA allows business leaders to take bigger risks again and again. It’s a policy based eco system that enables reinvestment that doesn’t currently exist in Georgia. Georgia lawmakers are probably hesitant about this change in policy due to our unwillingness to alter the AAA bond rating we maintain. They needn’t worry. Beskin dismissed the suggestion because as she rightly pointed out, I wasn’t an attorney. What she wasn’t aware of though, was that the idea wasn’t mine. It was Gerald Huang’s, a double Emory law grad who grew up in Cali and at the time was working in Senator David Perdue’s office. Now Gerald commands a portfolio of issues in an office in NYC because sadly, we couldn’t keep him here in Georgia. Gerald and I spent a fair amount of time over the years discussing the tech and business sector differences here and in other states. And so (as electeds often say in the chambers), “I’m sure the gentleman knows of which he speaks”. 

I’ve found that this type of small mindedness that previous Rep. Beskin demonstrated that night is the type of mindset that prevents bold innovation in our state and frustrates the minds that can offer it. It’s the thought that one has to have a certain type of degree or educational experience to have a good idea. The reality of Georgia (and Atlanta is a part of that) is that we all have something to learn from one another. Personally, my father never went to college, but I would say he is a pretty wise man in a lot of respects. He is the reason I personally do not need to see a degree to validate good policy ideas. I grew up with a lot of farmers who had better business sense than many MBAs I encountered in grad school. 

Refreshingly, I see some of the ideas I’ve mentioned here and the general respect for a wide array of community ideas are also represented in the Mayor’s Transition Plan that was released earlier this week. Look-a-there! Seems like I’m not the only one advocating for these issues within the city! 

But, but, but…police and government RESPOND to crimes & challenges, right? It’s unrealistic that we can PREVENT them, right? …And how is data going to help any of that?

I disagree. 

Do we all know what an ACES Score is? Cool. And we know that the CDC here in Atlanta has provided a prevention strategy, yes?  We also recognize that higher ACES Scores can lead to poorer adult health, yes? If you’re asking what does this matter in discussions of data sharing among police and schools, here’s your money shot: if we can track higher ACES scores and create resilience strategies around them, then we can also prevent the poorer mental health episodes in adults. And then, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have to make fewer calls to LEOs to settle disputes or to address suicides, because we will have taught those skills to humans at an earlier age. Maybe we’ll see less cases sent to DFACS care because we will have taught humans how to better care for their young. I believe this is referred to in educational circles as “holistic education”. 

Here’s hoping!

A higher ACES Score isn’t a catchall indicator. Individual resilience factors vary, and so while it’s helpful to eliminate contributions of higher ACES Scores, a score should NOT be used to determine a life path. 

It’s a wild idea, I know. Tracking something to then address it in systematic ways seems so counterintuitive to human behavior and policy in Georgia, where we LOVE anecdotal stories and personal narratives! And will this solve every problem? Absolutely not. 

But I bet it’ll solve more than individual LEOs buying groceries and paying individuals’ bills. 

It’s that sharing on a systematic level I’m talking about- the kind of generosity that leads to building our society up rather than razing it. It’s the next level pattern recognition provided by our LEOs that could enable resource allocation that leads to rural areas getting the healthcare they desperately need. Acknowledging our patterns reported by police could mean Atlanta providing public health so we get less emergency calls that require response from Grady and APD. Sharing helps cut through the bureaucracy to serve our people rather than waiting until a life altering event happens and lives are in danger (including LEOs). If we can meaningfully engage our LEOs in ways to share what they know to create policy solutions that serve them and us at the same time, should that not be our goal? Shouldn’t we be investing to address the causes of emergencies in our state rather than just responding in some ad hoc manner? Fascinatingly enough, prevention often proves to be cheaper in many instances than response. ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ or so I hear. That should be something fiscal conservatives also like, especially if policy leaders continue to demonstrate we aren’t very good at sharing. 

We adults need a lot of lessons on sharing in meaningful ways. Hopefully, we can find a few kindergartners who are willing to teach us.

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