Residents in a wealthy Atlanta community are trying to create their own police force as part of a push for secession as the city is rocked by a crime wave with murders up 80 percent so far this year.
The Buckhead Exploratory Committee, made up of residents of the city’s richest neighborhood of Buckhead, are looking to break away from the city in the wake of a surge in violent crime that has left people ‘genuinely concerned for their safety.’
In recent months, home surveillance footage captured the moment a man sprinted to reach the safety of his home as a car pulled up with a man brandishing a rifle.
Meanwhile, one woman was thrown to the ground on her driveway and had a gun held to her head before robbers made off with her purse and cellphone in the affluent area, often dubbed the ‘Beverly Hills of the South.’
The violence claimed the life of the area’s youngest victims back in December when a seven-year-old girl was shot in the head and killed during a Christmas shopping trip with her family.
The surge in crime in Buckhead is part of a wider surge across the city in the last year after around 200 officers left the force in the wake of the shooting death of black man Rayshard Brooks by a white cop in June.
Brooks’ death and the unrest that marred the city amid a nationwide reckoning calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism led many officers to quit.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms admitted in December she doesn’t know how to stop the alarming wave of violence and is ‘open to suggestions.’
Home surveillance footage shows a man sprinting to reach the safety of his home as a car pulled up outside with a man touting a rifle
The Buckhead Exploratory Committee told The Wall Street Journal residents want to create their own police force because they no longer feel protected while going about their day-to-day lives.
‘Our residents are genuinely concerned for their safety and the safety of their family members,’ they said.
‘Residents must be wary and ‘on guard’ continuously, even when doing routine tasks like going to the gas station, nearby shopping mall, shopping at the grocery store or just pulling into their driveways, mindful if anyone is lurking in the bushes.’
The proposal had been put forward prior to the recent crime wave but gained new ground in 2020 as residents voiced concerns over a rise in street racing and crime.
City officials have opposed the idea to separate the wealthy, largely white neighborhood from the rest of Atlanta, which is predominantly black, arguing it would siphon away much of the city’s tax base and, in turn, its budget.
Buckhead’s population is 73.5 percent white and 23.9 percent black. This compares to the wider Atlanta population which is 50.7 percent black and 38 percent white, according to Data US.
Aside from secession, other residents are planning to move out of Buckhead to quieter parts of the suburbs to get away from concerns around rising crime.
One woman told WSJ she and some of her friends are planning to move after she lost her ‘sense of security’ in her own home following an armed robbery on her driveway in January.
Across Atlanta, homicides were up 80 percent in the period running January 1 to February 20 compared to the same period last year, shootings were up 32 percent and robberies 17 percent
BUCKHEAD, GEORGIA: ONE OF THE NATION’S WEALTHIEST ZIP CODES
Buckhead is known as Atlanta’s commercial and residential district, famed for its high-rise buildings and shopping centers, hotels and mansions.
The neighborhood is a historically wealthy district and was once ranked the ninth richest zip code in the country with a median price of homes of $1,460,595, according to Forbes.
American suburban luxury home in Buckhead, Atlanta
Bloomberg named Buckhead the 20th richest zipcode in the nation in 2011, when the average household net worth there was $1,353,189.
The average household income was $280,631.
Because of this, Buckhead is often called the ‘Beverly Hills of the East/South’, in reference to the upscale city in California.
Buckhead is also known to have a few notable residents, including Georgia Republican Kelly Loeffler.
Loeffler was among the wealthiest members of Congress until she lost her seat in January. In 2009, she and her husband spent more than $10million on a European-style mansion named Descante in the Buckhead neighborhood.
Lauren Lenoir, a 43-year-old restaurant general manager, said she pulled into her home after a shift one night when two men appeared and threw her to the ground.
They allegedly held a gun to her head before running off with her purse and cellphone.
‘He had no regard for my life. They’ve stolen something that I cannot get back, and that is my sense of security,’ she said.
Another man, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2002, said several of his neighbors are also considering moving after he was followed home after buying takeout pizza for his family last summer.
Shocking surveillance footage captures the moment he arrives home and the man following him pulls up and takes out a rifle.
The victim is seen running into his home where he calls 911, causing the man to flee.
‘You kind of are hopeful that this is a near-term trend,’ he told the WSJ.
‘At first it’s just a one-off, but then it keeps happening and you wonder, are we just stupid for staying here?’
One of the most shocking crimes in the neighborhood came just before Christmas when seven-year-old Kennedy Maxie was fatally shot in the back of the head while riding in a car with her aunt and mother in Buckhead.
The young girl had just finished Christmas shopping with her family at the Phipps Plaza mall in the affluent Atlanta suburb when several men in a nearby parking lot got into a fight that led to gunfire.
Kennedy died of her injuries five days later.
The violence continued into the new year with a man shot at a Buckhead nightclub in the early hours of February 28.
Crime data from Atlanta Police Department shows robberies increased 40 percent in the period running January 1 to February 20 compared to the same period last year in zone two which covers Buckhead.
Aggravated assaults also increased 35 percent, auto theft 63 percent and larceny from auto theft 32 percent. Overall year to date offenses were up 13 percent.
However, there were two murders and two rapes by this time last year compared to one murder and two rapes so far this year.
In the fall, local leaders and organizations in the community introduced the Buckhead Security Plan to protect businesses and residents in response to growing concerns with the spate in crime.
The proposal, which was backed by the police department, the Atlanta Police Foundation, members of the Fulton County Commission, and a member of Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms’ administration, aims to increase public safety using law enforcement officers from local and state agencies.
The plan is divided into two major categories, the first being ‘Deterrence & Enforcement,’ which seeks to install more license plate readers and cameras to cover all major intersections in the neighborhood.
Back in December, seven-year-old Kennedy Maxie (pictured) was fatally shot in the back of the head while riding in a car with her aunt and mother in Buckhead
The surge in crime in Buckhead is part of a wider surge across the city in the last year with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (pictured) admitting in December she doesn’t know how to stop the alarming wave of violence and is ‘open to suggestions’
It also calls for a coordinated security patrol which would consist of extra-duty officers from the APD, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and private security firms, according to the website.
Under its second category, titled, ‘Policy & Procedural Change’, the proposal calls for ‘new approaches’ to ongoing issues and crackdowns on noise, ‘street racing’ and ‘spot checking overcrowding at problematic establishments’.
‘We are taking action to reverse recent trends in crime, hold lawbreakers accountable, and restore citizen confidence that Buckhead is safe and secure,’ said Jim Durrett, president of Buckhead Coalition and executive director of Buckhead Community Improvement District.
‘The partners collaborating on this effort understand the urgency of the situation and are committed to responding in ways that meet the needs of this moment and put Buckhead on a solid footing for years to come.’
But the spate of violence stretches further than Buckhead with homicides up 80 percent across Atlanta in the period running January 1 to February 20 compared to the same period last year, crime data shows.
Rayshard Brooks (pictured) was shot dead in the drive-thru lane of an Atlanta Wendy’s by a white cop back on June 12
Shooting incidents also rose 32 percent, robberies 17 percent and aggravated assaults and auto thefts were both up 47 percent.
2020 also marked the deadliest day the city has seen in more than two decades with 157 people murdered, up from 99 the year before, according to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Experts and officials have put the crime surge down to the pandemic and fewer cops on the streets after hundreds left the force in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests.
More than 200 cops quit in 2020 as protests erupted calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism following the Memorial Day alleged murder of black man George Floyd at the hands of white cop Derek Chauvin.
One month after Floyd’s death, police killings of black men and women hit closer to home when Rayshard Brooks was shot dead by a white cop in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant in downtown Atlanta.
Brooks death ignited protests over Floyd’s death further in the city.
Garrett Rolfe, the cop who shot Brooks dead, was fired and he was charged with felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and violation of oath by a public officer.
Police Chief Erika Shields stood down in June and hundreds of cops railed behind their cop colleagues with a ‘blue flu’ protest.
There are now around 1,700 officers on the force compared to 2,046 it is authorized to have at one time.
Stark research released in January shows a crime wave rocked most cities across America last year, as the pandemic pushed many into poverty while the police killing of George Floyd sparked both distrust in law enforcement and many cops to resign
Bottoms and Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant announced a raft of measures in January including training officers in new policing methods, a new focus on recruitment and more resources into tackling gang and gun violence.
Stark research released in January shows a crime wave rocked most cities across America last year, as the pandemic pushed many into poverty while the police killing of George Floyd sparked both distrust in law enforcement and many cops to resign.
Homicides rose in 29 of 34 cities surveyed in the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice report, with homicide rates up 30 percent in 2020 compared to 2019 as an extra 1,268 people were murdered.
The report called for immediate action to tackle the trend, writing: ‘Subduing the pandemic, increasing confidence in the police and the justice system, and implementing proven anti-violence strategies will be necessary to achieve a durable peace in the nation’s cities.’
FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the coronavirus pandemic as well as police staffing issues have played a key part in the rise in crime.
‘The violent crime problem over the last year in particular, 2020, is something that is a great concern that we are very warily keeping our eye on,’ he said.