The Buckhead Cityhood Movement Meets Opposition From Key Leaders

There are two community organizations that are leading the charge to reduce a pandemic-fueled spike of crime in Buckhead. Each group has ideas about how to keep our neighborhoods safe, and there does not seem to be much middle ground between their favored approaches.

The Buckhead Security Plan

The Buckhead Security Plan was designed in cooperation with the Atlanta Police Department and several civic and business organizations, including the Buckhead Coalition, the Buckhead Community Improvement District, and others. The plan is designed to reduce crime in Buckhead by augmenting and expanding law enforcement programs that are already in place using private funds along with resources from the APD.

The plan has added more security cameras and license plate readers in the district in an expansion of Atlanta’s Operation Shield, and the BCID helped to purchase a new police cruiser for off-duty Zone 2 officers to use when patrolling Buckhead. The BCID recently announced four additional bicycle officers to further expand police presence in the area.

Jim Durrett is the executive director of the BCID. We asked him how programs like Operation Shield are working to reduce crime. “If one is aware that cameras and LPRs are covering an area, one might be less inclined to commit a crime.” Acknowledging that other measures are needed, he added, “This is one important piece to the puzzle: it is not sufficient, but it is necessary.”

“The City is absolutely on board with the Plan. They were engaged in the development of it and are partners in implementing it.” As evidence of this commitment from the City, Durrett says, “We have seen an increase in enforcement of ordinances, with substantial efforts being made to address street racing and illegal club operation.”

The Buckhead Exploratory Committee

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The Buckhead Exploratory Committee, or BEC, is a non-profit study group that has recently begun organizing an effort to incorporate Buckhead as an independent city. According to data supplied by the BEC, crime rates increased by 30% in 2020, while total arrests were down 43%. The BEC blames this negative trend on low salaries for City of Atlanta police officers and “all-time low” morale in the department, among other things. In response to this, Durrett countered that, “the City’s recent commitment to support the establishment of a first-class public safety training facility should be very helpful [to improve officer morale].” The Buckhead CID is also funding housing subsidies to encourage APD Zone 2 officers to live in the community.

The BEC is convinced that Buckhead should fund and manage its own police department. They list law enforcement as one of the main reasons Buckhead should incorporate into its own city.

Sam Lenaeus with the BEC told us via email, “Buckhead has very little representation and power over the City’s outcomes and decision-making. As a study group, we have concluded that becoming our own city is the only way we will be able to solve these issues long term. We are not interested in a band-aid solution.”

Jim Durrett disagrees with this assessment. “The Security Plan was born out of an immediate need to respond to rising crime in Buckhead”. The Buckhead CID believes that the crime problem is a pressing one, and that the road to incorporating into a city would take too long. “There are numerous obstacles along a path that would take years, and the effort has almost no likelihood of succeeding. Crime needed to be addressed immediately.”

Crime is not the only issue on the table

The BEC’s push for cityhood is not just about law enforcement. The BEC also sites infrastructure and public schools as areas that would benefit from more direct community control of the area’s substantial tax revenue. Lenaeus says public safety, infrastructure, and zoning are the main reasons that 83.75% of the respondents to their survey say they favor creating an independent city of Buckhead. “We have decided that the only way we will improve our community is by fully managing our services and our tax dollars.”

Durrett acknowledges these frustrations, but he believes the Buckhead Security Plan is the prudent choice. “I wish that the City had the resources to cover all community needs, but we believe that coming together at this time to address this spike in lawlessness is the right thing to do.” The Buckhead CID believes that it is important for Buckhead to remain part of the City of Atlanta. From the Buckhead Coalition’s statement in July 2020, “Now, as much as at any time in our history, we believe Atlantans need to come together across racial, geographic, and economic differences to find common ground and build a more unified community.”

The Buckhead Exploratory Committee is not convinced that the neighborhoods and businesses in Buckhead are best served by continuing to operate within the City of Atlanta. Lenaeus said, “We do not believe this will get better by just creating joint commissions.”

What do you think? Should Buckhead become an independent city?