Mayor Andre Dickens, on the stage in front, addresses hundreds of people who attended his town hall in Buckhead on October 24. (Photos by Dyana Bagby)

Crime was the main topic of discussion at an Oct. 24 town hall in Buckhead, where less than a year ago Atlanta pushed back against a Republican-backed movement seeking to secede from the North Atlanta community .

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens along with Acting Police Chief Darin Schierbaum and Director of Operations Lisa Gordon faced a crowd of hundreds standing at Peachtree United Methodist Church Road to answer questions about MARTA, the Atlanta belt line, infrastructure, and even pickle ball. But the majority of the nearly 2-hour town hall focused on crime issues.

Schierbaum said violent and property crime was down 11% in Zone 2, which includes Buckhead. Zone 2 is the only one of the Atlanta Police Department’s six zones to see such a drop in crime from last year, he said. Other Zone 2 stats from this time last year: Aggravated assault is down 10%; thefts are down 6%; and car burglaries are down 14%.

The mayor said programs including the city’s Nightlife Division and Office of Violence Reduction are helping to slow crimes such as shootings and serious assaults that have increased during the Covid 19 pandemic. new police station in Buckhead Village is key to preventing crime, he said.

The Lenox Square shootings have repeatedly made headlines over the past two years, but in the past 10 months there have been no incidents of shootings or violent crime in Lenox or Phipps Plaza, a said Dickens. Zero incidents is remarkable, he said, as more than a million people visit malls every month.

There have been eight homicides in Buckhead this year compared to 12 this time last year. The latest homicide happened this month on Peachtree Battle Avenue and was on the top of many people’s minds.

“I get your point that crime in Buckhead is down,” one woman said during the town hall Q&A.

“Well, it doesn’t look like crime in Buckhead is going down. In fact, Buckhead is not safe,” she said to loud applause. “And I’m just wondering, because I know you as a councilor, that you voted to defund the police and I wonder if you’re able to attract police officers to come and work with the town.”

Susan Kreuer, vice president of the Paces Civic Association, said a friend’s elderly parents lived near where the Peachtree Battle murder happened.

“They’re scared right now,” Kreuer said. “Perception is reality. If people don’t feel safe, that doesn’t make Atlanta a good place to live.

Another resident of Peachtree Battle said he appreciates that statistically crime is down in Buckhead, but that doesn’t erase the spike in crime that has hit the affluent community over the past two years.

“Where are we with hiring more police?” he asked to a round of applause.

Schierbaum said the APD has 1,500 sworn members and another 140 are in training. The department is authorized to have 2,035 officers. He said recruiting efforts are ramping up with the mayor-approved $4,000 retention bonus for those who remain in the department for at least 18 months.

He also said APD’s Public Safety Training Center, set to be built on 85 acres in DeKalb County, will also help reduce crime rates. The APD will soon introduce a program for officers to drive patrol cars home, another incentive, he said.

Dickens directly addressed the “perception is reality” comment.

“I know perception is sometimes reality, but reality is also reality,” he said.

“So when I say crime in Buckhead is down, I have to say, I have to give you the numbers, that’s the reality,” he said. “Perception is perception, but reality is reality.”

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum, Mayor Andre Dickens and COO Lisa Gordon at Buckhead Town Hall.