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Atlanta officials had some explaining to do last month when an audit concluded the city mismanaged federal grants designed to combat crime in poor neighborhoods plagued by illegal drug activity.
The city disagreed with some of the findings and noted that crime was down significantly in the neighborhoods the program was designed to help. Mayor Kasim Reed’s Office of Communications put out a press release, noting the program had enjoyed some success.
"From 2009 to 2013, in the Pittsburgh and Mechanicsville neighborhoods, crime is down 42 and 35 points, respectively. In English Avenue and Vine City, major crimes are down 51 percent and 50 percent, respectively, between 2007-2011," the city said in a press release.
PolitiFact Georgia was curious about the numbers. Did crime really drop by these percentages in those neighborhoods, as the city claimed?
From 2007 to 2010, the city of Atlanta received slightly more than $1.1 million in U.S. Justice Department grants for its now-defunct Weed and Seed program. The Justice Department questioned the city’s spending of nearly $400,000 in grant money.
"Weed" is used to represent the campaign to weed out criminals and drug dealers while "seed" represents the effort to plant seeds of revitalization.
"Four elements make up the two-pronged Weed and Seed strategy," the Justice Department said in its report. "Law enforcement; community policing; prevention, intervention, and treatment; and neighborhood restoration."
The four neighborhoods that received help from the Weed and Seed program are located on the city’s south side. Pittsburgh and Mechanicsville are located near Turner Field. English Avenue and Vine City are located near the Atlanta University Center and the Georgia Dome. All four neighborhoods have had trouble with crime, drug dealers and mortgage foreclosures.
Carlos Campos, a spokesman for the city, agreed to assist PolitiFact Georgia when we questioned the crime numbers and asked for more details.
Campos called us back a couple of days after our initial inquiry. He said the city’s numbers in the press release were incorrect. They were way off base for Mechanicsville.
Campos sent PolitiFact Georgia a statement with the corrected statistics:
Neighborhood Claim Actual Change
Mechanicsville down 35% up 35%
Pittsburgh down 42% down 37%
Vine City down 50% down 44%
English Avenue down 51% down 45%
Campos said the numbers in the original press release were not vetted with the Atlanta Police Department’s Tactical Crime Analysis unit beforehand. Campos took the blame for the incorrect numbers.
"It is worthy to note that major crimes are down for 2011 compared to 2007, collectively, in those four neighborhoods served by Weed & Seed by 21 percent, according to APD’s numbers," the city said in a statement.
The city posted the statement and the corrected crime statistics in a news release on its website.
Again, the city of Atlanta claimed crime was down between 35 and 51 percent in four neighborhoods that received help from its Weed and Seed program. The decrease in crime was not as great as the city claimed in three of the four neighborhoods. In Mechanicsville, the city said crime had declined 35 percent, but it was actually up 35 percent.
Campos conceded the crime stats initially presented to the public and news organizations were incorrect.
The crime decrease cited by the city in its original statement was not as dramatic as officials said.
The city did issue a follow-up press release with the correct numbers. But that came after the initial, incorrect information was broadcast to the public and only after PolitiFact Georgia questioned the initial numbers.
PolitiFact has had others who’ve offered mea culpas when we’ve inquired about the accuracy of their claims. In those instances, PolitiFact will still report our findings and note the speaker admitted to making an error.
The city fessed up, but that does not erase the initial error.
We rate the city’s initial claim False.
Channel 2 Action News, "Audit finds federal money meant to fight crime in Atlanta misspent," Sept. 24, 2013.
Media statement by the City of Atlanta, Sept. 23, 2013.
Media statement by the City of Atlanta, Sept. 30, 2013.
Telephone interview with Carlos Campos, City of Atlanta spokesman, Sept. 30, 2013.
U.S. Department of Justice audit of Atlanta Weed and Seed program, September 2013.
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