Atlanta's new Nightlife Manager, Michael Paul, visited Little 5 Points last week to discuss some of the longtime issues facing the community.
During an hour-long walk representatives from the Little 5 Points Business Association and Main Street Committee, along with several business owners and managers explained to City of Atlanta Nightlife Manager Michael Paul how crime, parking, and illegal vending negatively impact the neighborhood.
Raymond Ross, the Mayor’s Director of Communications and Brittany Brewster, the City of Atlanta Community Engagement Manager were also in attendance.
Amid brief showers, and a few run-ins with a few of Little 5's more interesting characters, Mr. Paul toured through both plazas as well as the parking lots behind 7Stages and Variety Playhouse. As a 30 year resident of the city, and a former bar owner, the new Nightlife Manager has ambitious plans for evolving how Atlanta tackles crime with an emphasis on enhancing the places that give the city its character. "Little 5 Points is part of the fabric of culture in Atlanta," Mr. Paul said. "This is a crux point of the city.” Mr. Ross assured the group that helping Little 5 is a priority for Mayor Andre Dickens.
As part of the Office for Film & Entertainment, Mr. Paul sees himself as bridge between a variety of government agencies, and repeatedly stated that he would follow up on specific issues, such as trash pick up and parking issues, with the heads of the correct departments.
One of the biggest topics during the tour was crime, and poor police responsiveness. In the past few months Little 5 Points has endured several smash-and-grabs, most notably at Crystal Blue where police took over three hours to arrive, and refused to take fingerprints because store owners boarded up the windows. While Little 5 Points is one of the few business districts in the city with a beat cop, she is only assigned between 8am and 4pm despite much of Little 5's criminal activity happening in the evening and night. Mr. Paul said that the new City administration is emphasizing community based police involvement–– cops on the ground, walking around to businesses, and getting to know community members. According to Mr. Paul, the Atlanta Police Chief, Darin Schierbaum, assured him that they have enough resources and people.
In a recent survey of Little 5 businesses, a majority of respondents listed either crime (72.09%) or homelessness (62.79%) as one of the top issues facing the community.
The business owners on the tour also stressed to Mr. Paul that illegal vendors who compete with retail businesses by selling mostly jewelry and alcohol, have learned the beat cop's schedule, and only come out once she leaves. The Little 5 Points Business Association often pays for off-duty police officers to patrol, however their hours come at a high price. That money could otherwise be spent on beautification and cleaning projects. According to Mr. Paul, the City Council is currently working on a plan for a 3rd party to manage off-duty police resources. The new system will cap how much local neighborhoods can spend on wages, with city government funds paying the rest owed.
In Davis Plaza Mr. Paul saw how many of Little 5's homeless and impoverished community members avoid the new security camera by hiding behind it. Upon asking if anyone has ever put up lights in the plaza or surrounding parking lots, and if they helped to prevent drug sales and muggings, Mr. Paul heard how most security lights will get shot out within 24 hours. Bar owners also told Mr. Paul how some people will camp out with tents on top of roofs. One bar has recently found a baby pool and mattresses on their roof, with another going so far as to install razor wire to prevent tent cities from forming.
Along the tour Mr. Paul was shown where people sleep underneath buildings, encountered a pile of human excrement, and was described to by one bar owner how her employees move their cars at night to avoid walking in parking lots.
Despite the insistence from Mrs. Paul and Ross it is currently unclear how the City of Atlanta will specifically help Little 5 Points with its current issues. Mr. Ross encouraged Business owners to always call 911 or 311 (for non-emergencies) to report safety and health issues so that the city can build data on occurrences.