Deterrence is Key to MARTA Safety

May 16, 2011

Recent news of an attack by a horde of gang members against two Delta Air Lines employees on a late night MARTA train has prompted renewed interest in the issue of public safety on MARTA. The attack also has prompted me, as chairman of MARTOC, the joint legislative committee that oversees MARTA, to delve into the issue.

Over the next few months, MARTOC will be looking for ways that we can make the experience of using MARTA better for its customers. One of the key areas on which we will focus is public safety. I strongly believe that we will see more people choose to ride MARTA if they perceive the system as clean and safe.

Deterrence is essential to enhancing safety for MARTA customers. MARTA police are aggressively pursuing the gang members who perpetrated the attack against the Delta employees and have arrested seven of the perpetrators as of the time I write this column. This effort is commendable, but after-the-fact arrests and prosecutions are not sufficient to provide the level of deterrence that is necessary to significantly improve safety on MARTA.

I held a MARTOC meeting on the public safety issue on Tuesday, May 3. In their presentation, MARTA officials informed the committee that they are in the process of installing closed circuit cameras on every bus and train car in the system. With respect to buses, this project is expected to be completed by the end of 2014. It will take somewhat longer to outfit all trains with closed circuit technology. The price tag to outfit all MARTA vehicles with closed circuit cameras is expected to be $15 million with annual operating costs of $2 million.

This is a significant step in the right direction, but closed circuit cameras are only as good as the human eyes that monitor them. A more significant step to improve deterrence would be to increase the number of uniformed police officers who are present on trains and buses. MARTA is now taking steps to place uniformed officers on 60 percent of evening trains. The closer we get to 100 percent coverage — both during the evening and daytime, and particularly on trains — the better.

Some of my constituents have noted that there was a time in the past that it seemed routine to see a uniformed MARTA police officer on every train, walking the train from front to back, back to front, and then back again. These days it seems that sightings of uniformed MARTA officers on trains are less frequent.

One project that MARTOC is undertaking this year, prior to the 2012 legislative session, is a comprehensive review of the MARTA Act. This is the 1960s state law that created MARTA. In the MARTA Act, there is a restriction that 50 percent of MARTA’s revenues must be used for operations and the other 50 percent for capital and infrastructure. This is known as the “50-50 split,” and it is a restriction that MARTA has long asked the General Assembly to repeal.

If the General Assembly decides to repeal the 50-50 split, it would not happen without replacing it with some specific requirements on MARTA’s operations in particular areas. One of these areas is almost certain to be public safety.

We might mandate that more uniformed officers be deployed on trains and buses. We might require that the closed circuit cameras be operated in such a way that they are more interactive, rather than simply appearing to the public as fixed objects for which it is not apparent whether or not they are manned.

Any public safety requirements added to the MARTA Act will be aimed at stronger deterrence. In the May 3rd hearing, MARTA informed us that the number of serious crimes within the MARTA system such as robberies, aggravated assaults, auto thefts, rapes, and burglaries have been reduced from 540 in FY 2006 to 418 in FY 2010.

This downward statistical trend is a good thing, but we will not have fully addressed the issue of public safety on MARTA until deterrent measures are adopted to make riders feel safer.

On a final note, MARTA informed us that they will have a police officer walk you to your car during the evening if you pick up a blue or white telephone located at a station. I am passing this information along to you, in case you might need to make use of this service in the future.


Hermance Stoplight Starts October 4th

October 1, 2010

The new stoplight at the corner of Hermance Drive and Peachtree Road, between Town Brookhaven and Oglethorpe University, will be activated for the first time on Monday, October 4. Please keep an eye peeled during your morning commute.


Don’t TXT + DRV

July 10, 2010

Senate Bill 360 (click for more information) went into effect on July 1.

This new law prohibits the sending or reading of electronic mail or text messages while operating a motor vehicle. It does not apply while your vehicle is parked, but it does apply while you are sitting at an intersection. If ticketed, violators will be fined $150 and have one point assessed against their driver’s license.

I wanted to make sure you are aware of this.


It’s All About Priorities

March 24, 2008

DeKalb County’s police force is woefully understaffed and underpaid.  Currently, DeKalb has 1.4 officers per 1,000 residents.  The national average is 2.7 officers per 1,000 residents.

As a result of DeKalb’s inadequately staffed police department, wait times for an officer to arrive at the scene of an incident that is not a dire emergency often can exceed 30 minutes.

Commissioners Burrell Ellis, Elaine Boyer, Jeff Rader, and Kathie Gannon recently sponsored a sensible proposal to boost pay for sworn officers by 8% and add 127 new officers to the DeKalb County Police Department.  Their proposal would be funded by trimming non-public safety functions of the county government by 1.25%.

Commissioners Larry Johnson, Lee May, and Connie Stokes voted against that proposal, saying they favored a property tax increase by way of a millage rate hike in order to fund the police positions and pay raises.

The Ellis-Boyer-Rader-Gannon proposal prevailed on a 4-3 vote.  However, CEO Vernon Jones vetoed it, claiming that he was carrying out “the will of the people” in supporting the Johnson-May-Stokes proposal for a property tax increase.

The will of the people???  On what planet?

As Commissioner Boyer points out:  “Since Jones became CEO, the county’s budget has grown more than 54 percent while the county’s population has grown about 29 percent.”  Moreover, a recent audit of county contracting practices uncovered a troubling pattern of structuring no-bid contracts in amounts just below the competitive bidding threshold to the same vendors for the same services over and over and over again.  As a result, our county government has paid millions of dollars to vendors in violation of competitive bidding safeguards.

An attempt to override the CEO’s veto could occur as early as this Tuesday’s county commission meeting.  In order to override the CEO’s veto, five votes are required.  To reach five votes, one additional vote is needed from among Commissioners Johnson, May, and Stokes.

Please call or e-mail these commissioners today.  Their contact information is as follows:

Commissioner Larry Johnson, District 3

[email protected], 404-371-2425

Commissioner Lee May, District 5

[email protected], 404-371-4745

Commissioner Connie Stokes, District 7

[email protected], 404-371-3053

County spending has grown in excess of the rate of population growth plus inflation.  Meanwhile, important areas such as public safety have not kept pace.  The Ellis-Boyer-Rader-Gannon plan would rein in the county budget while setting the right priorities for our community.


Last Call Ordinance & DeKalb Governance Reform

November 11, 2007

If you are planning to e-mail or call our county commissioners about the proposal to roll back DeKalb’s pouring hours from 3:55 to 2:00 a.m., now is the time to do it.  The DeKalb County Commission will vote on this proposal, or a possible compromise proposal, at their meeting on Tuesday, November 13.

If you plan to attend the commission meeting, Commissioners Elaine Boyer and Jeff Rader recommend arriving between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m.  They anticipate a filled-to-capacity crowd.  The meeting will be held at the Manuel Maloof Government Center, 1300 Commerce Drive, in Downtown Decatur.

CEO Vernon Jones has vowed to veto the rollback, which means that five of the seven commissioners must support the proposal in order to override the CEO’s veto.

On a related note, I am working on two reform proposals for the 2008 legislative session to put neighborhoods and citizens back in the driver’s seat of local government in DeKalb County.  I will discuss these proposals in detail in upcoming e-mail newsletters next week and the following week.  In addition, these reform proposals will be the focus of a town hall meeting to be held Thursday, November 29, at 7:00 p.m. in the Talmage Room of the Oglethorpe University student center. 

I hope to see you there.


DeKalb Revisits Last Call on November 13

November 6, 2007

It’s time again to contact county commissioners in support of the proposal by Commissioner Jeff Rader to roll back “last call” in DeKalb County to 2:00 a.m., instead of the present 3:55 a.m.Last month, the county commission voted 4-3 to defer action on this proposal until the commission’s meeting on Tuesday, November 13.

This motion to defer, a simple procedural motion to allow more time for consideration, was opposed by Commissioners Larry Johnson, Lee May, and Connie Stokes. Unless I am reading too much into their votes, it appears these three commissioners are opposed to any efforts to preserve homeowners’ rights to quiet enjoyment of their property, or to curtail the real-life public safety problems that certain DeKalb nightclubs have caused.

Before I receive a handful of e-mail messages proclaiming that “bar and nightclub owners have private property rights, too,” let me respond that property rights are a two-way street. The rights of bar and nightclub owners to pour alcohol into the wee hours of the morning should end where the rights of DeKalb County homeowners to raise their families and enjoy their neighborhoods begin.

I sincerely hope that Commissioners Johnson, May, and Stokes are not as intransigent as they appear. If three commissioners are opposed to doing anything to address neighborhood concerns about a very real problem in DeKalb County, then there aren’t the five votes needed to override the veto that CEO Vernon Jones has promised on this issue. The CEO’s repeated threats of increased property taxes and job losses if DeKalb eliminates alcohol pouring hours between 2:00 and 3:55 a.m. are one of two things: (1) a bluff, or (2) a sad statement about economic development in DeKalb County under his watch.

In addition to Commissioner Rader, Commissioners Elaine Boyer and Kathie Gannon deserve praise for their steadfast support of reducing DeKalb County’s pouring hours.  Along with Commissioner Burrell Ellis, who seems to be a swing vote on this issue, they are trying to hash out a compromise with the three “no” votes.  Hopefully a compromise that fully addresses neighborhood concerns and receives the necessary five votes is attainable.  This 1,500-foot proposal (click for link) is not a suitable compromise.

DeKalb County presently has the latest last call of any county in Metro Atlanta. That has attracted a stampede of new nightclubs to storefronts in our community. The latest, known as “Pure,” has opened in the Williamsburg shopping center located at the intersection of Briarcliff and Clairmont Roads. Two others, Club Miami and Hi-Tops (formerly the Cabin Room), both of which are located on Buford Highway, have caused significant noise and crime problems for homeowners in the Keys Lake Condominiums and Rivers Edge Townhomes, and in nearby Pine Hills.

The following is an e-mail I received from a constituent who lives in the Keys Lake Condominiums about an incident that occurred two weekends ago:  “There was another incident in the area of Club Miami.  Unfortunately, it was an incident that started at the Pink Pony and this occurred around 3:30 a.m. last Saturday night.  Guns, police, etc.  The individuals ran onto condo property and apartment property, directly across the street from Club Miami.  Five people were taken into custody, one person in the hospital with a gunshot…one person was found to have 100 hits of narcotic ecstacy on him and $8K in cash!! Mike, please do whatever you can to close the clubs down at the earlier times.  We will do whatever we can.  DeKalb County Commissioners need to show up on the weekends around 3:30 at these clubs.”

Consider these statistics recently reported by GoDeKalb.com (click for link): “NHTSA (National Highway Transportation and Safety Association) data showed statewide 32 percent of auto fatalities were alcohol related in 2005 in Georgia. The percentage for DeKalb was 41 percent; for Cobb 29 percent; for Fulton 32 percent; for Gwinnett 39 percent; and for Clayton 31 percent.”

These numbers don’t lie. Our county’s policy needs to change. Please call or e-mail the county commissioners. Their contact information is as follows:

Commissioner Elaine Boyer, District 1

[email protected], 404-371-2844

Commissioner Jeff Rader, District 2

[email protected], 404-371-2863

Commissioner Larry Johnson, District 3

[email protected], 404-371-2425 

Commissioner Burrell Ellis, District 4

[email protected], 404-371-4907

Commissioner Lee May, District 5

[email protected], 404-371-4745

Commissioner Kathie Gannon, District 6

[email protected], 404-371-4909

Commissioner Connie Stokes, District 7

[email protected], 404-371-3053

Citizens should consider attending the county commission meeting on Tuesday, November 13, at 10:00 a.m. at the Maloof Government Center, 1300 Commerce Drive, in Downtown Decatur. Last month, opponents of Commissioner Rader’s proposal attended in droves and demonstrated in front of the building. Proponents were decidedly outnumbered.

As your State Representative, I will not rest until there is a successful resolution of the last call issue, whether or not that resolution occurs at the county level.


Take Action to Curb Nightclub Influx

October 8, 2007

Please call or e-mail your county commissioners.  Today.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, October 9, the DeKalb County Commission will consider a proposal by Commissioner Jeff Rader to change “last call” for serving alcohol from 4:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.

Citizen involvement is needed to encourage the commissioners to support this measure.

Why is an earlier last call important to our neighborhoods?  When the City of Atlanta changed its last call to 2:30 a.m. in response to a wave of violent activity around Buckhead nightclubs, it prompted an exodus of nightclubs to shopping centers in neighboring DeKalb, where last call is later.  In fact, DeKalb County presently has the latest last call in all of Metro Atlanta.

It is widely rumored that management from Club 112, the now-closed Atlanta nightclub with a notorious history of violence, is planning to open a new nightclub called “Pure” in Williamsburg Plaza at Briarcliff and Clairmont Roads.   Actually, the owners are calling it an “events center,” but with a name like Pure I don’t foresee the facility hosting wedding parties and Rotary luncheons.

This would not be the first nightclub in or adjacent to residential neighborhoods in our community.  Within the past year, residents of Pine Hills grappled with noise and disorderly conduct from late-night activities at the nearby Cabin Room on Buford Highway.  The Keys Lake Condominiums recently were forced to hire an off-duty DeKalb police officer to curtail trespassing, lewd behavior, and other infractions on Keys Lake’s property by patrons of Club Miami, also on Buford Highway.

The later these establishments stay open and pour alcohol, the more problems tend to arise.  DeKalb County simply does not have the police manpower to keep after the problems that accompany more nightclubs taking advantage of the 4:00 a.m. last call.

Commissioners Elaine Boyer (District 1), Jeff Rader (District 2), and Kathie Gannon (District 6) all have expressed their support for an earlier last call.  They deserve our thanks for standing strong in the face of outrageous paid advertising in local newspapers calling this proposal “DeKalb’s Jena 6.”  The remaining commissioners who have not announced how they will vote are as follows:

Commissioner Larry Johnson, District 3

[email protected], 404-371-2425

Commissioner Burrell Ellis, District 4

[email protected], 404-371-4907

Commissioner Lee May, District 5

[email protected], 404-371-4745

Commissioner Connie Stokes, District 7

[email protected], 404-371-3053

In addition to Commissioners Boyer, Rader, and Gannon, a fourth commissioner must support the proposal in order for it to pass.

CEO Vernon Jones is threatening to veto the measure.  You may want to add him to your phone or e-mail list:

CEO Vernon Jones, [email protected], 404-371-2881

If the CEO vetoes the earlier last call, then a total of five commissioners (Boyer, Rader, Gannon, and two more) will be needed to override the veto.  Please call or e-mail these commissioners, and ask them to stand up for our neighborhoods.


Brookhaven Safety Meetings, Past & Present

August 20, 2007

Thank you to the approximately 150 Brookhaven residents who attended last week’s public safety forum at Oglethorpe University.

It’s a shame that on the afternoon of this meeting, as political retribution for the passage of House Bill 181 (click for more information), CEO Vernon Jones abruptly ordered the police department not to participate.  The police department’s participation had been confirmed since July 18, and was confirmed again via e-mail the morning of the meeting.

Regardless of the CEO’s decidedly un-senatorial antics, I stand by HB 181 and the protection it affords DeKalb County taxpayers.

This is the second time recently that police department brass did not attend a Brookhaven community meeting in which they had agreed to participate, having previously missed a separate meeting organized for Brookhaven Heights by their neighborhood association.

The police department has scheduled yet another meeting this Tuesday, August 21, at 7:00 p.m. in Lupton Auditorium at Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road.  DeKalb Police Chief Terrell Bolton will be there.  Please attend, make your voice heard, and get your questions answered.

As promised at last Tuesday’s meeting, the following are minutes of citizen comments and questions.  Also, as discussed, the anonymity of the residents who made the comments is being preserved.  I hope you find these minutes helpful as a glimpse into what is happening in our neighborhoods:

A resident of Drew Valley stated that her neighbors’ house was spray painted with graffiti.

A resident of Brookhaven Fields spoke in opposition to out of control county government spending, and the county’s failure to spend adequately on the right priorities, namely public safety.

Four separate residents of Lynwood Park addressed the ongoing problem with drug houses in their neighborhood.  Drug deals occur in the open throughout the day, and prostitution also is a problem.  There was a high level of frustration among residents of Lynwood Park who attended the meeting.

A resident of Brookhaven Chase stated that her automobile, parked in her garage, was broken into while she was hosting a dinner party in her house.  The resident stated that she placed four calls to 911, but the police never arrived.  The resident further stated that the police came at another time, but declined to dust the automobile for fingerprints.

A resident of Ashford Dunwoody Road inquired about the prevalence of gang activity in DeKalb County.

A resident of North Druid Hills Road argued that the county should crack down on criminal activity along Buford Highway, particularly gang activity.

A resident of Ashford Park asked whether crime rates are increasing or decreasing in Brookhaven.

A resident of Oglethorpe Estates inquired whether there is a website or any literature that explains the gang signs used by street gangs in DeKalb County.

A resident of the Fernwood Park Townhomes talked about two men who were seen casing Brookhaven Fields, and Cartecay Drive in particular.  This casing activity was followed by a series of break-ins in the neighborhood.

A resident of Brookhaven Heights mentioned that an SUV was stolen from Pine Grove Avenue the preceding night.

A resident of HillsDale encouraged residents to visit the North Precinct’s Yahoo Group (click for link) to get information about recent criminal activity in the area, and to share this information within their neighborhoods.

A resident who lives near Lynwood Park talked about a series of at least four car break-ins that occurred within a 30-minute period, which is how long the resident stated that it took the police to show up.  The resident argued that criminals are aware of police response times and purposefully flout the system.  The resident noted, however, that the perpetrator ultimately was apprehended.  The stolen goods never were recovered.

A resident of Ashford Park stated that he heard a car idling outside his house.  He later discovered that a man was sitting inside the car using the resident’s wireless Internet connection.  The perpetrator drives up and down residential streets looking for an unsecured wireless Internet connection.  The resident argued that laws against this type of activity should be strengthened.

A resident of Devereaux Commons asked in what places it is legal to carry a concealed firearm.

A resident of Harts Mill Road wanted the county to place more emphasis on resource allocation such that public safety would be a greater priority.


Brookhaven Community Meeting with DeKalb Police

August 9, 2007

Vandalism in Ashford Park.

Break-ins on Harts Mill Lane.

A kidnapping in Lenox Park.

Whenever crime happens in Brookhaven, I hear from constituents about it.  While my role generally is restricted to policy-making at the state level, I wanted to do something at the local level to be of assistance on this major community issue.

That’s why Judge Johnny Panos and I have arranged a Brookhaven community meeting with the DeKalb County Police Department next Tuesday, August 14, at 7:00 p.m. in Lupton Auditorium in the main building of Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road.

Please come out and get your questions answered, learn about crime rates in the Brookhaven area, and find out what you can do to help law enforcement help you.  I encourage you to forward this message to your neighbors to make sure they are aware of the meeting.

Many thanks to Al Fowler and Major Gilstrap of the police department’s North Precinct for their assistance in setting up this meeting.


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